Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

Terry A. Messmer

Abstract

The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) is the largest grouse species in North America and an indicator species for the condition of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems. The Box Elder Sage-Grouse Management Area (SGMA) in northwestern Utah encompasses one of the state’s largest sage-grouse populations.

To fill knowledge gaps regarding the population inhabiting the Raft River subunit of the Box Elder SGMA, I captured, radio-marked, and monitored 123 (68 female, 55 male) sage-grouse from January 2012 through December 2013. My purpose was to describe how the seasonal movements, survival, and reproductive rates of this sage-grouse population are effected by small-scale habitat use and breeding season foraging patterns.

Sage-grouse in the Raft River subunit have distinct winter and summer ranges, and some travelled long distances annually. Survival rates were similar to other Utah populations and range-wide averages. Nest and brood success rates were above range-wide averages and those reported in the adjacent Grouse Creek subunit of the same SGMA.

Sage-grouse in the study area selected habitats with specific vegetation characteristics to fit their seasonal needs. Sage-grouse use sites differed from random sites with greater forb height, grass height, and shrub height and cover. Nest success rates were directly related to selected vegetation, as successful nests were located more often under sagebrush and within greater forb height and cover and grass and shrub height than unsuccessful nests. Brood sites were also greater in forb, grass, and shrub height than other use sites.

In March and April of 2013, I located radio-marked sage-grouse at flock browse sites to observe their sagebrush diet selection patterns. Lab analyses showed no differences in nutritional quality or chemical composition between browsed sagebrush plants and non-browsed and random plants. However, browsed black sagebrush (A. nova) was lower in protein and higher in chemical content than browsed Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata wyomingensis). Radio-marked females were frequently observed at sites where black sagebrush was browsed, and one individual chemical was considerably more concentrated in browsed plants associated with females that nested successfully.

My research provides useful information regarding the seasonal habitat use patterns and vegetation preferences of sage-grouse in the Box Elder SGMA. To conserve the sage-grouse population in northwestern Utah, management actions must protect the seasonal habitats and vegetation that the species depends on for its productivity and survival.

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