Species of conservation concern are often habitat specialists, posing significant risk to those species when specific plant communities are threatened. Despite this, practitioners habitually focus conservation efforts on these singular communities, while ignoring ecological mechanisms that explain the wildlife-plant relationships. In doing so, practitioners may overlook alternative vegetation communities that could maintain wildlife populations under alternative conditions (e.g., climate change). Here, we term these areas surrogate habitat, defined as "vegetation communities or resource sites that provide similar critical resources to conventional sites," and assess their potential for conservation using a case-study of Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) on Parker Mountain, Utah (1998-2009). Sage-grouse are a sagebrush obligate species and a species of conservation concern. Range-wide conservation efforts have long emphasized management of seasonal habitats within semi-arid sagebrush ecosystems; specifically, management of mesic or wet meadow sites that provide brood-rearing habitat required for population persistence. Despite this requirement, no conventional mesic habitat exists on Parker Mountain, yet it supports one of Utah's largest sage-grouse populations. Rather, the Parker sagebrush system abuts quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) stands that may provide brood-rearing habitat analogous to wet meadow sites. It is unclear, however, to what extent sage-grouse use these aspen stands because sage-grouse commonly avoid tall structures (e.g., trees) and their associated avian predators. Thus, we tested whether: 1) sagegrouse selected for surrogate habitat (i.e., aspen edge), and 2) if selection behaviors related to surrogate habitat had a demographic effects on the population. As we predicted, sage-grouse selected for these areas, and the sage-grouse that spent increased time closer to aspen edges did not experience increased mortality. Together, this demonstrates that the aspen-sagebrush edge provided a surrogate for the wet meadows used by other populations. More broadly, this suggest conservation practitioners should move beyond simplistic wildlife-habitat associations toward a more holistic view of animal ecology focused on the wildlife-resource association; an approach that becomes particularly useful in areas where conventional obligate habitat may be degraded or lost. This work also implores us to examine alternative habitat potential rather than applying one-size-fits-all models to threatened species conservation.

Author ORCID Identifier

David Dahlgren

Document Type




File Format

.zip, .csv, .txt

Publication Date



Utah State University


see Kohl et al. 2024 (Ecosphere)

Scientfic Names

Centrocercus urophasianus, Populus tremuloides

Referenced by

see Kohl et al. 2024 (Ecosphere)

Start Date


End Date




Code Lists



Forest Sciences


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.




Additional Files

ParkerSG_RSFData.csv (211344 kB)
md5: 1188b0605bdf72c7984182f5652aaec7

BroodSuccessData.csv (317 kB)
md5: 4f031511f5ec31f0ef2696496c429ec7

CoxSurvivalData.csv (317 kB)
md5: 4f031511f5ec31f0ef2696496c429ec7

README_file.txt (4 kB)
md5: e935dc54d9d43a5d58c6333f5a90b8af