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January 24, 2024

Greater sage-grouse are often considered an umbrella species, or a species whose conservation indirectly protects other species within the umbrella species’ ecosystem. In this study, researchers used data-driven population models for seven sagebrush-dependent species to evaluate the efficacy of greater sage-grouse as an umbrella species.


Sagebrush-steppe ecosystems within the United States have experienced drastic loss, fragmentation, and degradation of remaining habitat, threatening sagebrush-dependent fauna, including the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), hereafter sage-grouse. This loss has resulted in widespread conservation efforts to protect sage-grouse habitats, efforts that may protect other sagebrush-dependent wildlife if sage-grouse are an effective umbrella species. 


map of sagebrush habitat overlap with species occurrence in colors
Figure 1. Predicted biodiversity (species richness) for sagebrush-dependent species in the Wyoming Basins Ecoregional Assessment (WBEA) study area (Brewer’s sparrow (Spizella breweri), sagebrush sparrow (Artemisiospiza nevadensis), sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus), green-tailed towhee (Pipilo chlorurus), greater short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi), and pronghorn (Antilocapra americana)). (A) Richness across the greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus; sage-grouse) range in the WBEA; (B) Richness overlap within sage-grouse model-predicted occurrence of greater sage-grouse (non-gray; predicted absences in gray); and (C) Richness overlap within priority areas for conservation (non-gray) is shown for evaluation of a single species umbrella or identified conservation areas to capture biodiverse habitat for sagebrush vertebrates. (Figure from Aldridge and others, 2024).


To evaluate the efficacy of a greater sage-grouse umbrella, USGS researchers and collaborators compared predicted habitat range and occurrence of six sagebrush-dependent species to sage-grouse habitat range and occurrence within the greater Wyoming Basins Ecoregional Assessment area (345,300 kilometers squared). In addition, they investigated whether current sage-grouse priority conservation areas overlap with predicted habitat for the six other sagebrush-dependent species.



Approximately half of predicted sage-grouse habitat overlapped with predicted occurrence for three sagebrush-obligate songbirds and locations containing four or more sagebrush-dependent species (Figure 1). Sage-grouse priority areas for conservation contained 59% of model-predicted sage-grouse habitat, and 56% of the identified biodiversity hotspots (Figure 1C). 



These results suggest that the greater sage-grouse habitats may be partially effective as an umbrella for the conservation of sagebrush-dependent species within the sagebrush biome, and management actions aiming to conserve biodiversity should directly consider the explicit mapping of resource requirements for other taxonomic groups.

Full citation: Aldridge, C.L., D.J. Saher, J.A. Heinrichs, A.P. Monroe, M. Leu, and S.E. Hanser. 2024. Evaluating spatial coverage of the greater sage-grouse umbrella to conserve sagebrush-dependent species biodiversity. Land 13(1) 123.

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