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Sage-Grouse Biology

Despite being one of the most well-studied upland game birds in North America, key knowledge gaps persist in the understanding of sage-grouse biology. USGS scientists are working to address these knowledge gaps in key areas including the development of population models that incorporate information about the complexities of the biological processes and dynamic habitats, improving the understanding the landscape attributes at facilitate connectivity between populations, and refinement of monitoring strategies and creation of tools to improve information about sage-grouse population characteristics.

Modeling Seasonal Habitat Requirements and Population Viability for Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming

USGS has developed Greater Sage-Grouse habitat-selection models for the nesting, summer, late brood rearing, and winter life stages in Wyoming to assess habitat quality and responses change across large landscapes. Project findings revealed that habitat selection was different across space and through time and will inform population modelling efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of core areas for conservation. These models will enable quantitative investigation of the long-term dynamics and persistence of sage-grouse populations and result in a data-driven decision support tool for managers prioritizing limited resources for conservation and management. Models will incorporate the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation resulting from future oil and gas development and associated road infrastructure and changes in habitat suitability resulting from climate change scenarios.

For Additional Information

Publications

Cameron Aldridge
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
aldridgec@usgs.gov
970-226-9433
Habitat prioritization across large landscapes, multiple seasons, and novel areas: an example using greater sage-grouse in Wyoming

Wildlife Monographs, 2014

A Hierarchical Integrated Population Model for Greater Sage-Grouse in the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment, California and Nevada

Genetic research has indicated isolation and potential conservation risk for the Greater Sage-Grouse Bi-State Distinct Population Segment (DPS), as well as different patterns of habitat selection and vital rates relative to the range-wide population. USGS developed an integrated population model (IPM) for this area to estimate population growth rates. The IPM indicates that the Bi-State population is stable overall, but evidence suggests a declining trend for one subpopulation. Researchers are now conducting analyses to assess which components of sage-grouse life-history are driving population change. This IPM approach could be adapted to assess population trends for Greater Sage-Grouse at other regional and landscape scales.

For Additional Information

Publications

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073
A hierarchical integrated population model for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment, California and Nevada

USGS Open-File Report 2014-1165, 2014

Winter Ecology of Greater Sage-Grouse: Diet Selection and Habitat Use in Nevada

Perhaps the most ubiquitous characteristic of sage-grouse is their reliance on sagebrush as a food source, particularly during winter when they consume it almost exclusively. However, it is not known to what extent sage-grouse rely on different species of sagebrush as a source of food or for cover, and how these attributes may be affected by environmental characteristics, such as temperature and snow depth. The USGS has initiated research into the winter ecology of Greater Sage-grouse in eastern Nevada to answer some of these questions. USGS and cooperators are evaluating sage-grouse use of different sagebrush species as a food source while accounting for the availability of sagebrush under different circumstances. Tracking data will be used to understand how winter conditions influence sage-grouse movement patterns and habitat use.

For Additional Information

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073

Videography and Geospatial Study of Predation Effects on Sage-Grouse Population Dynamics and Habitat Selection

Information about the extent of sage-grouse predation and the mechanisms that influence it at all life stages is incomplete. USGS has initiated a large-scale investigation of predation effects and underlying ecological drivers of predation at sites located throughout Nevada and California. Through use of nest videography, avian predator surveys, habitat assessment, geospatial analysis, and telemetry- and GPS-based sage-grouse monitoring, USGS and collaborators are evaluating how habitat composition, anthropogenic impacts, and other spatial and temporal processes influence nest predation rates, as well as age-specific and sex-specific survival rates. This information can be used to inform future management efforts to reduce predation impacts on sage-grouse populations.

For Additional Information

Publications

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073
Greater sage-grouse nest predators in the Virginia Mountains of northwestern Nevada

Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, 2013

Using Raven Small Unmanned Aircraft System Flights to Identify and Monitor Greater Sage-Grouse Leks in Grand County, Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife uses male sage-grouse counts on leks to assess population trends across northwestern Colorado. The agency is interested in using the Raven Small Unmanned Aircraft System to conduct these counts and improve the estimates of the number of Greater Sage-Grouse. Tests conducted by the USGS have revealed that the unmanned aircraft can detect Greater Sage-Grouse on leks and this platform does not disturb either males or females on the leks. The USGS is spearheading additional work that includes searching for historic Greater Sage-Grouse lek sites using unmanned flights, testing if the devices can detect the smaller-bodied Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and testing different sensors for their ability to detect sage-grouse and distinguish male and female birds.

For Additional Information

Publications

Leanne Hanson
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
leanne_hanson@usgs.gov
970-226-9262
Evaluation of the Raven sUAS to detect and monitor Greater Sage-Grouse leks within the Middle Park population

USGS Open-File Report 2014-1205, 2014

Population Abundance Estimates of Sage-Grouse using Infrared Technology

Counts of males displaying on leks have traditionally formed the backbone of sage-grouse population monitoring programs. Although useful as an index to long-term population trends, the use of lek counts for estimating sage-grouse abundance has been hampered by imperfect detection of males associated with leks and the number of known versus unknown leks in a given landscape. This research combines aerial-based thermal imaging with ground-based surveys to evaluate several untested questions related to lek-based population monitoring that will be used to improve lek-based estimates of sage-grouse abundance. The ultimate objective is to improve population estimation based on annual trends in male lek counts while explicitly accounting for multiple sources of imperfect detection.

For Additional Information

Publications

Peter S. Coates
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
pcoates@usgs.gov
530-669-5073
Can reliable sage-grouse lek counts be obtained using aerial infrared technology?

Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management, 2013

Developing and applying genomic resources for sage-grouse

New genomic approaches are revolutionizing our understanding of patterns and functional significance of genetic diversity in sage-grouse. USGS is harnessing these genomic approaches in many ways. We have developed new molecular markers (microsatellites and single nucleotide polymorphisms) that are useful for both species of sage-grouse. We are also using genomic methods to clarify patterns of genetic variation between Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse that allow us to examine mechanisms underlying the speciation event that separated the two species. We are producing the first draft whole-genome sequence for sage-grouse and are in the process of sequencing additional sage-grouse DNA samples from across the species range. Leveraging these whole-genome sequences as a reference, we are using a landscape genomics approach to scan for genetic loci correlated with environmental variables. We are also using a candidate gene approach to examine putative adaptations to consumption of different sagebrush species, some of which exhibit distinct profiles of toxic secondary metabolites.

For Additional Information

Publications

Sara Oyler-McCance
USGS Fort Collins Science Center
sara_oyler-mccance@usgs.gov
970-226-9197

Genomic single-nucleotide polymorphisms confirm that Gunnison and Greater Sage-grouse are genetically well differentiated and that the Bi-state represents a unique population of Greater Sage-grouse

The Condor, 2015

A Sage-Grouse Perspective on Disturbance and Landscape Arrangement

Anthropogenic and natural disturbance are primary causes of habitat fragmentation and loss underlying population declines of Greater Sage-Grouse. Therefore, understanding how sage-grouse actually perceive and move through their landscape when dispersing to new breeding areas or migrating between seasonal use areas can provide important insights into measuring the effects of disturbance. In a new study, USGS and University of Idaho researchers are tracking fine-resolution movements of adult sage-grouse. Locations recorded at 1-, 5-, and 15-minute intervals are providing information on how sage-grouse perceive the landscape and move relative to disturbance features. This study will fill a critical need for information about disturbance effects that can be used in developing conservation or mitigation actions.

Map of Sage-Grouse habitat disturbance

For Additional Information

Steven Knick
USGS Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
steve_knick@usgs.gov
208-426-5208

 

 

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