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Integrating wildlife habitat models with state-and-transitions models to enhance the management of rangelands for multiple objectives

June 7, 2021

State-and-transition models (STMs) are tools used in rangeland management to describe linear and nonlinear vegetation dynamics as conceptual models. STMs can be improved by including additional ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat, so that managers can predict how local populations might respond to state changes and to illustrate the tradeoffs in managing for different ecosystem services. Our objective was to incorporate songbird density into an STM developed for sagebrush rangelands in northwest Colorado to guide local management of sagebrush birds. The STM included two shrub-dominated community phases, a native grassland state, and a shrubland and grassland phase within an exotic-dominated state. We surveyed plots for songbirds, collected a suite of vegetation indicators at each plot, and quantified songbird habitat relationships with count-based regression models. We then used the estimated models to predict songbird density based on average vegetation conditions per state or community phase. Moderate or increasing shrub cover were important predictors for shrubland-associated species, and responses to understory components varied by species. In the STM, we predicted higher densities of shrubland-associated bird species in the shrub-dominated phases and higher densities of grassland-associated bird species in the state and phase lacking shrub cover. No single state or phase captured the highest density for all songbirds, illustrating the value of alternative states. Our results also demonstrate the utility of displaying traditional wildlife count models against the range of vegetation conditions associated with each state or phase to understand how wildlife density can vary within states and phases. Our approach can assist land managers to gauge the potential impacts of land-use decisions and natural vegetation variability on wildlife, especially for species of conservation concern.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Integrating wildlife habitat models with state-and-transitions models to enhance the management of rangelands for multiple objectives
DOI 10.1016/j.rama.2021.04.005
Authors Jennifer M. Timmer, Crystal Y. Tipton, Retta A. Bruegger, David J. Augustine, Christopher P.K. Dickey, Maria E. Fernandez-Gimenez, Cameron L. Aldridge
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Rangeland Ecology and Management
Series Number
Index ID 70221478
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center