Across portions of the western Great Plains in North America, natural fire has been removed from grassland ecosystems, decreasing vegetation heterogeneity and allowing woody encroachment. The loss of fire has implications for grassland species requiring diverse vegetation patches and structure or patches that have limited occurrence in the absence of fire. The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is a declining species of prairie-grouse that requires heterogeneous grasslands throughout its life history and fire has been removed from much of its occupied range. Patch-burn grazing is a management strategy that re-establishes the fire-grazing interaction to a grassland system, increasing heterogeneity in vegetation structure and composition. We evaluated the effects of patch-burn grazing on lesser prairie-chicken space use, habitat features, and vegetation selection during a 4-year field study from 2014–2017. Female lesser prairie-chickens selected 1- and 2-year post-fire patches during the lekking season, ≥4-year post-fire patches during the nesting season, and year-of-fire and 1-year post-fire patches during post-nesting and nonbreeding seasons. Vegetation selection during the lekking season was not similar to available vegetation in selected patches, suggesting that lesser prairie-chickens cue in on other factors during the lekking season. During the nesting season, females selected nest sites with greater visual obstruction, which was available in ≥4-year post-fire patches; during the post-nesting season, females selected sites with 15–25% bare ground, which was available in the year-of-fire, 1-year post-fire, and 2-year post-fire patches; and during the nonbreeding season they selected sites with lower visual obstruction, available in the year-of-fire and 1-year post-fire patches. Because lesser prairie-chickens selected all available time-since-fire patches during their life history, patch-burn grazing may be a viable management tool to restore and maintain lesser prairie-chicken habitat on the landscape. © 2021 The Wildlife Society.
|Title||Ecological disturbance through patch-burn grazing influences lesser prairie-chicken space use|
|Authors||Jonathan D. Lautenbach, David A. Haukos, Joseph M. Lautenbach, Christian A. Hagen|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Series Title||Journal of Wildlife Management|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Coop Res Unit Seattle|