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Oprimizing Landscape Management for Multiple Bird Guilds
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Dr. Jeffrey L Beck

Dept of Ecosystem Science and Management

Agriculture Building 2005

Department #3354

1000 E. University Ave

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-6683

Fax: (307) 766-6403

Email: jlbeck@uwyo.edu

Dr. Jeffrey L. Beck

Ecosystem Science and Management


Optimizing Landscape Management for Multiple Bird Guilds on the Thunder Basin National Grassland

Greater Sage-grouseGreater Sage-grouse

Banded adult Mountain PloverBanded adult Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover chicksMoutain Plover chicks

Thunder Basin landscapeThunder Basin landscape

PHD Student: Courtney Duchardt

The Thunder Basin National Grasslands (TBNG) are composed of a heterogeneous mosaic of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), short-grass, and mixed-grass communities, which provide breeding habitat for multiple suites of bird species while also supporting sheep and cattle ranching. A substantial portion of TBNG has been designated as core area for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), and this area is also important for other sagebrush-associated birds (e.g. sage thrasher [Oreoscoptes montanus], sagebrush sparrow [Artemisiospiza nevadensis], and Brewer’s sparrow [Spizella breweri]). Because the grasslands also support one of the largest complexes of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in North America, they have also been prioritized as a reintroduction zone for the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a federally listed endangered species. These large prairie dog colonies also provide critical breeding habitat for the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), a Wyoming Species of Greatest Conservation Need, and USFS Species of Conservation Concern. Colonies also provide important short-grass habitat for other species of concern including Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) and ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), while grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) and upland sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda) utilize adjacent mixed-grass habitat.

Because this landscape is so complex, and sagebrush- and shortgrass-associated species have largely mutually exclusive habitat requirements, conservation of all species in the same landscape requires spatial optimization of management approaches and a better understanding of spatial tradeoffs. Studies have described habitat requirements and associated habitat management strategies for species such as the greater sage-grouse (e.g. Doherty et al. 2011; Fedy et al. 2012; Hess and Beck 2012, 2014; Beck et al. 2014) and mountain plover (e.g. Dinsmore et al. 2010; Augustine and Derner 2012; Augustine and Skagen 2014). These studies focused on landscapes where the conservation priority was a single species or a group of species that share similar habitat. Key questions remain concerning the spatial extent of habitat patches important for species such as sage-grouse and mountain plover, and whether the spatial configuration of shortgrass and sagebrush habitats influences species occurrence and population dynamics

Our overall goal is to understand tradeoffs in the management of this heterogeneous landscape for different guilds of grassland and shrub-steppe birds, and how these interact with livestock production goals. Maximization of prairie dog colony acreage is known to benefit the shortgrass bird guild, but increasing colony acreage impacts livestock production and in some localities can negatively affect shrub-steppe birds.  To quantify these tradeoffs, we are focusing on the following research questions:

  1. How do short-grass, mixed-grass, and sagebrush bird species respond to the size and spatial configuration of habitat patches within a heterogeneous landscape?
  2. Considering single-species responses, is there an optimal configuration of sagebrush and prairie dog colonies to maximize desirable habitat for all species?
  3. Is nest success of mountain plovers influenced by the shape and configuration of prairie dog colonies?
  4. Are greater sage-grouse lek locations and size influenced by proximity to, size, and shape of prairie dog colonies?

Literature Cited
Augustine, D. J., and J. D. Derner. 2012. Disturbance regimes and mountain plover habitat in shortgrass steppe: Large herbivore grazing does not substitute for prairie dog grazing or fire. Journal of Wildlife Management 76:721-728.

Augustine, D. J., and S. K. Skagen. 2014. Mountain plover nest survival in relation to prairie dog and fire dynamics in shortgrass steppe. Journal of Wildlife Management 78:595-602.

Beck, J. L., D. T. Booth, and C. L. Kennedy. 2014. Assessing greater sage-grouse breeding habitat with aerial and ground imagery. Rangeland Ecology and Management 67:328-332.

Dinsmore, S. J., M. B. Wunder, V. J. Dreitz, and F. L. Knopf. 2010. An assessment of factors affecting population growth of the mountain plover. Avian Conservation and Ecology 5:5. [online] URL: http://www.ace-eco.org/vol5/iss1/art5/.

Doherty, K. E., J. L. Beck, and D. E. Naugle. 2011. Comparing ecological site descriptions to habitat characteristics influencing greater sage-grouse nest site occurrence and success. Rangeland Ecology and Management 64:344-351.

Fedy, B. C., C. L. Aldridge, K. E. Doherty, M. O'Donnell, J. L. Beck, B. Bedrosian, M. J. Holloran, G. D. Johnson, N. W. Kaczor, C. P. Kirol, C. A. Mandich, D. Marshall, G. McKee, C. Olson, C. C. Swanson, and B. L. Walker. 2012. Interseasonal movements of greater sage-grouse, migratory behavior, and an assessment of the core regions concept in Wyoming. Journal of Wildlife Management 76:1062-1071.

Hess, J. E., and Beck, J. L. 2012. Burning and mowing Wyoming big sagebrush: do treated sites meet minimum guidelines for greater sage-grouse breeding habitats? Wildlife Society Bulletin 36:85-93.

Hess, J. E., and J. L. Beck. 2014. Forb, insect, and soil response to burning and mowing Wyoming big sagebrush in greater sage-grouse breeding habitat. Environmental Management 53:813-822.








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Dr. Jeffrey L Beck

Dept of Ecosystem Science and Management

Agriculture Building 2005

Department #3354

1000 E. University Ave

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: (307) 766-6683

Fax: (307) 766-6403

Email: jlbeck@uwyo.edu

1000 E. University Ave. Laramie, WY 82071
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