Breeding season habitat use and response to management activities by greater sage-grouse on Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/bc386n349

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  • Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) have experienced declines throughout their range over the last 50 years. Long-term declines in sage-grouse abundance in Nevada and Oregon have been attributed to reduced productivity. From 1995-1997, sage-grouse production on Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR), Nevada was greater compared to Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge (HMNAR), Oregon. Specific causes for the difference were unknown. Thus, the objectives were to: 1) Determine sage-grouse breeding season habitat use (especially with regard to wildfire) on SNWR; 2) Evaluate reproductive parameters to discern differences between SNWR and HMNAR; 3) Compare habitat components which may relate to differences in sage-grouse reproductive success on SNWR and HMNAR; and 4) Establish hematological and serum chemistry reference ranges for sage-grouse hens to assess physiological condition. Cover type was important in selection of nest sites at SNWR; however, nest cover did not affect nesting success and nest-site selection was not related to experience. Vegetative characteristics at successful nest sites were similar to unsuccessful nests but nest sites had greater amounts of tall residual grass (≥18 cm) and medium height shrub cover (40-80 cm) than at random sites. Broods used areas with greater forb cover than random sites, indicating use was influenced by availability of forbs. Plant communities in wildfire and associated control sites did not differ appreciably in species composition. Although burning had little stimulatory effect on total forb cover 10-12 years post-burn, alteration of the sagebrush community did not limit sage-grouse use for successful nesting and brood-rearing. Fire did not negatively impact arthropod abundance. Differences in habitat use and sage-grouse productivity between SNWR and HMNAR may be related to differences in forb availability. Forb cover was greater at HMNAR than at SNWR for all cover types. Correspondingly, home range size for sage-grouse broods was greater on SNWR than at HMNAR. Nutrient analysis of forbs indicated higher crude protein, potassium, and magnesium levels at HMNAR than at SNWR; however, these nutrients are not likely to be deficient in most sage-grouse diets. Thus sagebrush-steppe communities supporting these forbs likely meet the dietary nutritional requirements of sage-grouse. Although blood calcium and uric acid levels were greater in sage-grouse hens on HMNAR than at SNWR, differences were attributed to capture date. Furthermore, physiological condition did not affect a hen's ability to nest successfully, nor was condition related to a hen's ability to recruit chicks to 1 August. Causes of sage-grouse decline are varied, but ultimately they are habitat based. Comparisons of reproductive parameters and habitat evaluations, combined with sage-grouse physiology data, may provide insight into habitat differences between study areas not previously recognized. Land management practices (e.g., prescribed fire) which recast the balance of native herbaceous species in degraded big sagebrush communities, may be necessary in the restoration of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems, and ultimately, the recovery of sage-grouse populations.
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