Interactive effects of severe drought and grazing on the life history cycle of a bioindicator species on the edge of its range

Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 

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Abstract

Recurring drought and grazing are ecological drivers of semi-arid grasslands on the Southern High Plains, USA; however, ecological drivers are currently undergoing human-induced alterations, which likely have implications for wildlife. We used the lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), an iconic grouse species that exhibits a boom-bust life history strategy, on the Southern High Plains, USA, as a bioindicator of main and interactive effects of severe drought and grazing. This region encompasses the southern and westernmost part of the lesser prairie-chicken range and experienced the worst drought on record in 2011. We surveyed lesser prairie-chicken leks (i.e., communal breeding grounds) across 12 years that represented 7 years before the 2011 drought ("pre-drought") and 4 years during and following the 2011 drought ("post-drought"). Grazing was annually managed with the objective of achieving ≤50% utilization of above-ground vegetation biomass. We used lek (n = 49) count data and covariates of weather and managed grazing to: 1) estimate long-term lesser prairie-chicken abundance and compare abundance pre-drought and post-drought; 2) examine annually the influence of drought (modified Palmer Drought Index), temperature, the number of days with maximum temperature >75th percentile, and precipitation on long-term lesser prairie-chicken survival and recruitment; and 3) assess and compare the influence of grazing on lesser prairie-chickens pre-drought and post-drought. Lesser prairie-chicken abundance was nearly 7 times greater pre-drought than post-drought, and population declines were attributed to decreased survival and recruitment. The number of days with temperature >75th percentile had the greatest effect, particularly on recruitment. The population exhibited a substantial bust during 2011 and 2012 without a boom to recover in 4 post-drought years. Adaptive grazing positively influenced the population pre-drought, but had no effects post-drought. Results suggest that the severe drought in 2011 may have been beyond the range of environmental conditions to which lesser prairie-chickens, and likely other species, have adapted. Land management practices, such as grazing, should remain adaptive to ensure potential negative influences to all species are avoided. Increasing habitat quantity and quality by reducing habitat loss and fragmentation likely will increase resiliency of the ecosystem and individual species.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Interactive effects of severe drought and grazing on the life history cycle of a bioindicator species on the edge of its range
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.4432
Volume 8
Issue 18
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 13 p.
First page 9550
Last page 9562
Country United States
Other Geospatial Southern High Plains
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