Dynamic disturbance processes create dynamic lek site selection in a prairie grouse

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Abstract

It is well understood that landscape processes can affect habitat selection patterns, movements, and species persistence. These selection patterns may be altered or even eliminated as a result of changes in disturbance regimes and a concomitant management focus on uniform, moderate disturbance across landscapes. To assess how restored landscape heterogeneity influences habitat selection patterns, we examined 21 years (1991, 1993-2012) of Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) lek location data in tallgrass prairie with restored fire and grazing processes. Our study took place at The Nature Conservancy's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve located at the southern extent of Flint Hills in northeastern Oklahoma. We specifically addressed stability of lek locations in the context of the fire-grazing interaction, and the environmental factors influencing lek locations. We found that lek locations were dynamic in a landscape with interacting fire and grazing. While previous conservation efforts have treated leks as stable with high site fidelity in static landscapes, a majority of lek locations in our study (i.e., 65%) moved by nearly one kilometer on an annual basis in this dynamic setting. Lek sites were in elevated areas with low tree cover and low road density. Additionally, lek site selection was influenced by an interaction of fire and patch edge, indicating that in recently burned patches, leks were located near patch edges. These results suggest that dynamic and interactive processes such as fire and grazing that restore heterogeneity to grasslands do influence habitat selection patterns in prairie grouse, a phenomenon that is likely to apply throughout the Greater Prairie-Chicken's distribution when dynamic processes are restored. As conservation moves toward restoring dynamic historic disturbance patterns, it will be important that siting and planning of anthropogenic structures (e.g., wind energy, oil and gas) and management plans not view lek locations as static points, but rather as sites that shift around the landscape in response to shifting vegetation structure. Acknowledging shifting lek locations in these landscapes will help ensure conservation efforts are successful by targeting the appropriate areas for protection and management.

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Hovick, T. J., Allred, B. W., Elmore, R. D., Fuhlendorf, S. D., Hamilton, R. G., & Breland, A. (2015). Dynamic disturbance processes create dynamic lek site selection in a prairie grouse. PLoS ONE, 10(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0137882

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