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Effects of lek count protocols on greater sage-grouse population trend estimates

April 20, 2016

Annual counts of males displaying at lek sites are an important tool for monitoring greater sage-grouse populations (Centrocercus urophasianus), but seasonal and diurnal variation in lek attendance may increase variance and bias of trend analyses. Recommendations for protocols to reduce observation error have called for restricting lek counts to within 30 minutes of sunrise, but this may limit the number of lek counts available for analysis, particularly from years before monitoring was widely standardized. Reducing the temporal window for conducting lek counts also may constrain the ability of agencies to monitor leks efficiently. We used lek count data collected across Wyoming during 1995−2014 to investigate the effect of lek counts conducted between 30 minutes before and 30, 60, or 90 minutes after sunrise on population trend estimates. We also evaluated trends across scales relevant to management, including statewide, within Working Group Areas and Core Areas, and for individual leks. To further evaluate accuracy and precision of trend estimates from lek count protocols, we used simulations based on a lek attendance model and compared simulated and estimated values of annual rate of change in population size (λ) from scenarios of varying numbers of leks, lek count timing, and count frequency (counts/lek/year). We found that restricting analyses to counts conducted within 30 minutes of sunrise generally did not improve precision of population trend estimates, although differences among timings increased as the number of leks and count frequency decreased. Lek attendance declined >30 minutes after sunrise, but simulations indicated that including lek counts conducted up to 90 minutes after sunrise can increase the number of leks monitored compared to trend estimates based on counts conducted within 30 minutes of sunrise. This increase in leks monitored resulted in greater precision of estimates without reducing accuracy. Increasing count frequency also improved precision. These results suggest that the current distribution of count timings available in lek count databases such as that of Wyoming (conducted up to 90 minutes after sunrise) can be used to estimate sage-grouse population trends without reducing precision or accuracy relative to trends from counts conducted within 30 minutes of sunrise. However, only 10% of all Wyoming counts in our sample (1995−2014) were conducted 61−90 minutes after sunrise, and further increasing this percentage may still bias trend estimates because of declining lek attendance. 

Publication Year 2016
Title Effects of lek count protocols on greater sage-grouse population trend estimates
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.1050
Authors Adrian P. Monroe, David R. Edmunds, Cameron L. Aldridge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Wildlife Management
Index ID 70162080
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center