Population ecology of and the effects of hunting on ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) in the southern and central Appalachians
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I investigated ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) population ecology in the southern and central Appalachians as part of the Appalachian Cooperative Grouse Research Project (ACGRP). Several hypotheses have been offered to explain the low abundance of ruffed grouse in the region including inadequate quantity of early-successional forests due to changes in land use, additive harvest mortality, low productivity and recruitment, and nutritional stress. Through the cooperative nature of the ACGRP, researchers tracked >3,000 ruffed grouse between October 1996 and September 2002 and gathered data on reproduction, recruitment, survival, and mortality factors. As part of the ACGRP my objectives were
(1) estimate reproductive rates,
(2) estimate survival and cause-specific mortality rates,
(3) determine if ruffed grouse harvest in the Appalachian region is compensatory, and
(4) estimate ruffed grouse finite population growth.
Ruffed grouse population dynamics in the Appalachian region differed greatly from the core of ruffed grouse range. In general, ruffed grouse in the Appalachian region had lower productivity and recruitment, but higher survival than reported for populations in the Great Lakes and southern Canada. However, within the southern and central Appalachian region, ruffed grouse population dynamics differed between oak-hickory and mixed-mesophytic forest associations. Productivity and recruitment were lower in oak-hickory forests, but adult survival was higher than in mixed-mesophytic forests. Furthermore, ruffed grouse productivity and recruitment were more strongly related to hard mast (i.e., acorn) production in oak-hickory forests than in mixed-mesophytic forests. The leading cause of ruffed grouse mortality was avian predation (44% of known mortalities). Harvest mortality accounted for only 12% of all known mortalities and appeared to be compensatory. Population models indicate ruffed grouse populations in the Appalachian region are declining, but estimates vary greatly stressing the need for improved understanding of annual productivity and recruitment. We posit ruffed grouse in the Appalachian region exhibit a clinal population structure and changes in life-history strategies due to gradual changes in the quality of food resources, changes in snow fall and accumulation patterns, and predator communities. Recommendations are presented for habitat and harvest management and future research and management needs.
- Doctoral Dissertations