An intertebrate ecosystem engineer likely covered under the umbrella of sage-grouse conservation

Western North American Naturalist
By: , and 

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Abstract

Conservation practitioners often rely on areas designed to protect species of greatest conservation priority to also conserve co-occurring species (i.e., the umbrella species concept). The extent to which vertebrate species may serve as suitable umbrellas for invertebrate species, however, has rarely been explored. Sage-grouse (Centrocercus spp.) have high conservation priority throughout much of the rangelands of western North America and are considered an umbrella species through which the conservation of entire rangeland ecosystems can be accomplished. Harvester ants are ecosystem engineers and play important roles in the maintenance and function of rangeland ecosystems. We compared indices of the abundance of western harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis) and Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) at 72 sites in central Wyoming, USA, in 2012. The abundance of harvester ant mounds was best predicted by a regression model that included a combination of local habitat characteristics and the abundance of sage-grouse. When controlling for habitat-related factors, areas with higher abundances of sage-grouse pellets (an index of sage-grouse abundance and/or habitat use) had higher abundances of ant mounds than areas with lower abundances of sage-grouse pellets. The causal mechanism underlying this positive relationship between sage-grouse and ant mound abundance at the fine scale could be indirect (e.g., both species prefer similar environmental conditions) or direct (e.g., sage-grouse prefer areas with a high abundance of ant mounds because ants are an important prey item during certain life stages). We observed no relationship between a broad-scale index of breeding sage-grouse density and the abundance of ant mounds. We suspect that consideration of the nonbreeding habitat of sage-grouse and finer-scale measures of sagegrouse abundance are critical to the utility of sage-grouse as an umbrella species for the conservation of harvester ants and their important role in rangeland ecosystems.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title An intertebrate ecosystem engineer likely covered under the umbrella of sage-grouse conservation
Series title Western North American Naturalist
DOI 10.3398/064.077.0406
Volume 77
Issue 4
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, Brigham Young University
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 14 p.
First page 450
Last page 463
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