Thursday, March 1, 2012
New Greater Sage-Grouse Research
Today the Interntional Journal of Conservation - Oryx published a paper I am a co-author on. The paper is titled "Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus migration links the USA and Canada: a biological basis for international prairie conservation." and the abstract reads -
Migratory pathways in North American prairies are critical for sustaining endemic biodiversity. Fragmentation and loss of habitat by an encroaching human footprint has extirpated and severely truncated formerly large movements by prairie wildlife populations. Greater sage-grouse Centrocercus urophasianus, a Near Threatened landscape species requiring vast tracts of intact sagebrush Artemisia spp., exhibit varied migratory strategies across their range in response to the spatial composition of available habitats. We unexpectedly documented the longest migratory event ever observed in sage-grouse (> 120 km one way) in 2007–2009 while studying demography of a population at the north-east edge of their range. Movements that encompassed 6,687 km2 included individuals using distinct spring and summer ranges and then freely intermixing on the winter range in what is probably an obligate, annual event. The fate of greater sage-grouse in Canada is in part dependent on habitat conservation in the USA because this population spans an international border. Expanding agricultural tillage and development of oil and gas fields threaten to sever connectivity for this imperilled population. Science can help delineate high priority conservation areas but the fate of landscapes ultimately depends on international partnerships implementing conservation at scales relevant to prairie wildlife.
The paper is based on the work that Jason Tack did for his master's thesis that I wrote about previously here.and here. As the abstract states, the migration was something we hadn't really expected. We just wanted to find out what habitats the birds were using during the breeding and brood rearing in this rather unique (for sage-grouse) silver sagebrush habitat. When Jason first went looking for his radio marked birds early the first winter, the couldn't find any of them in Canada or the northern part of the county and it was only because he had the receiver on as he transited back to the airport that we first found out where these birds were spending the winter. Jason did a great job with this research and I am happy to have worked on this with all the co-authors.