Effects of Common Raven and Coyote Removal and Temporal Variation in Climate on Greater Sage-Grouse Nesting Success

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Biological Conservation





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Predator removal has been simultaneously proposed and criticized as a mitigation measure for low reproductive rates of prey species, including greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; hereafter “sage-grouse”). Depredation of sage-grouse nests can limit their productivity. In Wyoming, lethal removal of common ravens (Corvus corax: hereafter “ravens”) and coyotes (Canis latrans) has been conducted by USDA/APHIS/Wildlife Services (WS) for the protection of livestock. During 2008–2011, we evaluated sage-grouse nest success in study sites (1) where WS initiated a raven removal program, (2) WS removed coyotes, and (3) WS did not manipulate ravens and/or coyotes. Precipitation and temperature were analyzed individually and as interactive effects with coyote removal numbers as sources of annual variation in nest success. Over the course of our study, raven densities decreased at study sites with WS raven removal, while sage-grouse nest success in those study sites was higher during years with reduced raven density. Temperature effects on nest success were dependent on timing with successful nests having cooler temperatures prior to the nesting season (conditions promoting water retention and grass growth) and warmer temperatures the week before nest fate (conducive to degradation of sage-grouse odorants used by mammalian predators). Lower nest success was associated with more lethally removed coyotes interacting with greater precipitation suggesting mesopredator release. Raven removal may have a place in sage-grouse management as an interim mitigation measure when sage-grouse populations are subjected to high densities of ravens. However, long-term solutions are necessary, such as reducing supplemental food sources and perch structures used by ravens.