Lesser prairie-chicken space use in relation to anthropogenic structures


The Southern Great Plains has been altered by conversion of native grassland to row-crop agriculture, which is considered the primary cause of declining lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) populations. However, recent analyses indicate that direct loss of grassland has slowed while lesser prairie-chicken populations continue to decline, suggesting that remaining grasslands potentially suffer from degradation by various land uses (e.g., increased anthropogenic disturbance). Understanding the spatial ecology of lesser prairie-chickens relative to anthropogenic structures is important for conservation planning, habitat management, and infrastructure mitigation. We investigated effects of proximity to anthropogenic structures on home range and nest placement (second-order selection) and within home range space use (third-order selection) of radio-marked lesser prairie-chickens (n = 285) at 2 scales of selection using resource utilization functions and resource selection functions. We collected data from birds marked in the Mixed-Grass Prairie and Short-Grass Prairie ecoregions of Kansas, USA, from 15 March 2013 to 14 March 2016. Home range placement did not vary by region or season, and lesser prairie-chickens placed home ranges farther from powerlines and roads than would be expected at random. As distance increased from 0 to 3 km away from roads and powerlines, the relative probability of home range placement increased 1.66 and 1.54 times, respectively. Distance to powerline was the single most consistent variable negatively affecting nest placement. As the distance from powerline increased from 0 to 3 km, the relative probability of nest placement increased 2.19 times. Distance to oil well did not influence placement of home ranges or nests. When pooled across regions, lesser prairie-chickens exhibited behavioral avoidance of powerlines, roads, and oil wells within their home range. Lesser prairie-chickens, on average, used space at greater intensities within their home range farther from wells, powerlines, and roads than available. Across breeding season phases, we found no evidence of increased behavioral avoidance of anthropogenic structures during the nesting or brooding phases compared to the lekking or post-breeding phases. Within home range space use during the brooding phase was not related to powerlines, wells, or roads. Our results indicate that avoidance of anthropogenic structures may result in functional habitat loss and continued fragmentation of remaining grassland habitat. Reduction or elimination of anthropogenic development in quality lesser prairie-chicken habitat and concentrating new development in already altered areas that are avoided by lesser prairie-chickens and no longer considered available habitat may reduce continued habitat degradation throughout the species' range and aid in population persistence. (c) 2018 The Wildlife Society.



anthropogenic, Kansas, lesser prairie-chicken, management, mitigation, Tympanuchus pallidicinctus