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Balancing model generality and specificity in management-focused habitat selection models for Gunnison sage-grouse

April 11, 2022

Identifying, protecting, and restoring habitats for declining wildlife populations is foundational to conservation and recovery planning for any species at risk of decline. Resource selection analysis is a key tool to assess habitat and prescribe management actions. Yet, it can be challenging to map suitable resource conditions across a wide range of ecological contexts and use the resulting models to identify effective and universal habitat improvement actions. We developed a management-centric modeling approach that sought to balance the need to evaluate the consistency of key habitat conditions and improvement actions across multiple, distinct populations, while allowing context-specific environmental variables and spatial scales to nuance selection responses that form the basis of location-specific management prescriptions. To demonstrate this approach, we developed a set of habitat selection models for Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus), a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Conservation, species recovery, and habitat management efforts are needed in six isolated satellite populations (San Miguel, Crawford, Piñon Mesa, Dove Creek, Cerro Summit-Cimarron-Sims, and Poncha Pass) where environmental conditions differ, and the already small number of birds are declining. We used multi-scale and seasonal resource selection analyses to quantify relationships between environmental conditions and sites used by animals. All models included key habitat variables often altered through management actions to assess their differential influences across models. We found important similarities and differences among satellites, indicating that, although some rules of thumb are generally well-grounded, the consideration of population-specific environmental differences could increase the efficiency of local habitat improvement actions. Sage-grouse also had diverse responses to resource conditions at different scales, indicating that regional spatial (e.g., landscape) and local patch scale can differentially influence expected habitat improvements associated with where such management actions are implemented. Although context variables such as topography cannot be manipulated, sage-grouse associations revealed information that could guide the siting of improvement actions. This approach to balancing management objectives associated with habitat assessment may benefit spatially-structured populations with different environmental contexts and species with complex habitat needs and associations.

Publication Year 2022
Title Balancing model generality and specificity in management-focused habitat selection models for Gunnison sage-grouse
DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2021.e01935
Authors Dorothy Saher, Michael O'Donnell, Cameron L. Aldridge, Julie A. Heinrichs
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Ecology and Conservation
Index ID 70230409
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center