University of Wisconsin–Madison
Spatial Analysis For Conservation and Sustainability

Responses to land cover and grassland management vary across life history stages for a grassland specialist

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Grassland birds have exhibited dramatic and widespread declines since the mid-20th century. Greater prairie chickens (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) are considered an umbrella species for grassland conservation and are frequent targets of management, but their responses to land use and management can be quite variable. We used data collected during 2007–2009 and 2014–2015 to investigate effects of land use and grassland management practices on habitat selection and survival rates of greater prairie chickens in central Wisconsin, USA. We examined habitat, nest-site, and brood-rearing site selection by hens and modeled effects of land cover and management on survival rates of hens, nests, and broods. Prairie chickens consistently selected grassland over other cover types, but selection or avoidance of management practices varied among life-history stages. Hen, nest, and brood survival rates were influenced by different land cover types and management practices. At the landscape scale, hens selected areas where brush and trees had been removed during the previous year, which increased hen survival. Hens selected nest sites in hay fields and brood-rearing sites in burned areas, but prescribed fire had a negative influence on hen survival. Brood survival rates were positively associated with grazing and were highest when home ranges contained ≈15%–20% shrub/tree cover. The effects of landscape composition on nest survival were ambiguous. Collectively, our results highlight the importance of evaluating responses to management efforts across a range of life-history stages and suggest that a variety of management practices are likely necessary to provide structurally heterogeneous, high-quality habitat for greater prairie chickens. Brush and tree removal, grazing, hay cultivation, and prescribed fire may be especially beneficial for prairie chickens in central Wisconsin, but trade-offs among life-history stages and the timing of management practices must be considered carefully.