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A regionally varying habitat model to inform management for greater sage-grouse persistence across their range

December 13, 2022

Identifying habitat needs for species with large distributions is challenging because species-habitat associations may vary across scales and regions (spatial nonstationarity). Furthermore, management efforts often cross jurisdictional boundaries, complicating the development of cohesive conservation strategies among management entities. The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a rapidly declining species that spans 11 U.S. states and responds to habitat conditions across a wide range of spatial scales and regions. Allowing for regional variance in species-habitat associations and suitability predictions could systematically identify important habitats at levels relevant to management. We collaboratively developed a model with Bureau of Land Management (BLM) biologists that: (1) evaluated the scale of effect for different environmental covariates; (2) accounted for regional differences in population-level responses; and (3) predicted probabilities of persistence across the U.S. occupied range. We modeled range-wide lek persistence data (6615 communal breeding sites classified as active or inactive) as a function of environmental covariates. Environmental covariates included sagebrush cover, pinyon-juniper cover, topography, precipitation, point and line disturbance densities, and landscape configuration metrics. Our model treated habitat assessment areas – regionally delineated by BLM biologists – as random intercepts and slopes that allowed for geographic variation in species-habitat associations and predicted probabilities of lek persistence. Our final model indicated support for 12 environmental covariates predicting lek persistence at scales extending between 1- to 15-km radii from lek centers, and a covariate measuring distance to the occupied range boundary. Five of these covariates showed significant regionally varying responses: sagebrush clumpiness (a measure of habitat aggregation), pinyon-juniper cover, point disturbance of anthropogenic features such as energy infrastructure and communication towers, elevation, and a topographic index associated with mesic habitats. This spatial nonstationarity indicates unitary range-wide recommendations, or rules-of-thumb with respect to their effects on lek persistence, may be problematic for these environmental conditions. For covariates that did not include random slopes, and which were potentially amenable to management actions, we found that leks were predicted to become extirpated when sagebrush cover fell below 9.6 % (summarized at the 3.2-km radius extent), and the proportion of classified sagebrush habitat fell below 0.7 (1-km). We produced a continuous predictive probability surface of lek persistence which we binned based on model sensitivity thresholds to produce habitat quality categories. The highest quality habitat (capturing 50 % of active leks) covered 25.5 % of the occupied range, while the combined lowest through highest quality habitats (capturing 95 % of active leks) covered 65.0 %. Accommodating regional environmental differences in models that are relevant to habitat management planning will help ensure their applicability to targeted goals. Continuous collaboration between modelers and land managers early in the modeling process increases the likelihood of this outcome.

Publication Year 2023
Title A regionally varying habitat model to inform management for greater sage-grouse persistence across their range
DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02349
Authors Gregory T. Wann, Nathan D. Van Schmidt, Jessica E. Shyvers, Bryan C. Tarbox, Megan M. McLachlan, Michael O'Donnell, Anthony J Titolo, Peter S. Coates, David R. Edmunds, Julie A. Heinrichs, Adrian P. Monroe, Cameron L. Aldridge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Ecology and Conservation
Index ID 70242845
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center; Western Ecological Research Center