Date of Award:
Master of Science (MS)
Terry A. Messmer
The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) is a species of conservation concern in Utah and range-wide due to declines in populations and threats to sagebrush habitat on which they depend. To effectively conserve the species, detailed site-specific knowledge of ecology and distribution is needed. To expand knowledge of local populations within the West Box Elder Sage Grouse Management Area (SGMA) and gain insights into the effectiveness of vegetation treatments intended to benefit sagegrouse, I radio marked and tracked 123 (68 female, 55 male) sage-grouse and conducted sage-grouse pellet surveys on 19 conifer removal projects.
Widespread habitat restoration measures designed to benefit sage-grouse have highlighted the need for prioritization tools to optimize placement of sage-grouse habitat projects. I generated seasonal habitat models to predict sage-grouse habitat use within the West Box Elder SGMA using a suite of vegetation and topographical predictors and known sage-grouse locations. Model fit was good with brood, early summer, late summer, lekking (early spring), and non-breeding models reporting an AUC of >0.90; nest and winter models reported an AUC of 0.87 and 0.85, respectively. A vegetation disturbance history was built for the study area from 1985 to 2013; however, the vegetation disturbances mapped were not a strong predictor of sage-grouse seasonal habitat-use.
To evaluate effectiveness of conifer reduction treatments I used fecal pellet and in concert with radio-telemetry data. Increased sage-grouse use of conifer treatments was positively associated with sage-grouse presence in adjacent habitats (P = 0.018), percent shrub cover (P = 0.039), and mesic environments within 1000 m of treatments (P = 0.048). Sage-grouse use of conifer treatments was negatively associated with conifer canopy cover (P = 0.048) within 1000 m of treatments.
To investigate sample bias related to individual bird behavior or capture trauma I monitored 204 radio-marked sage-grouse within the West Box Elder and Rich-Morgan- Summit SGMAs in Utah between January 2012 and March 2013. Sage-grouse that flushed one or more times prior to capture had higher brood (P = 0.014) and annual survival (P = 0.027) than those that did not. Sage-grouse that experienced more capture trauma had decreased annual survival probabilities (P = 0.04).
Cook, Avery, "Greater Sage-Grouse Seasonal Habitat Models, Response to Juniper Reduction and Effects of Capture Behavior on Vital Rates, in Northwest Utah" (2015). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 4369.
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