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Novel landscape elements within natural gas fields increase densities but not fitness of an important songbird nest predator

October 23, 2018

Identifying the elements within human-altered landscapes most associated with population and community changes is critical for conservation and management of sensitive species. We investigated which features of habitat change from natural gas development best explained the density of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), an important nest predator of declining sagebrush-obligate songbirds. During 2014–2016, we quantified the spatial extent of habitat change (well pads, roads, and reclaimed areas [i.e., reseeded soils]) surrounding 12 sites spanning two natural gas fields in Wyoming, USA. We further tested whether the altered plant communities within reclaimed areas provided benefits to deer mice, by assessing multiple fitness indices. Deer mouse density increased with surrounding reclaimed area. Powder tracking and dietary analyses confirmed that mice moved through and consumed plant species found exclusively within reclaimed areas. Concomitant fitness metrics of mice, however, were neutrally or negatively related to the amount of surrounding reclaimed area. Mice therefore did not derive any apparent fitness benefits associated with living near reclaimed areas, despite the presence of novel food resources, indicating that increased abundance may be a product of mice dispersing toward reseeded soils. Our study contributes mechanistic insights into the complexities of how human-induced changes to landscapes can influence community dynamics. Minimizing total habitat disturbed during construction, expediting reclamation practices, and using only native and regionally-local seed mixes would likely help minimize increases in synanthropic rodent predators within energy fields. More efficient restoration of disturbed habitat, moreover, may help ameliorate altered predator-prey relationships that affect the success of sensitive species.

Publication Year 2018
Title Novel landscape elements within natural gas fields increase densities but not fitness of an important songbird nest predator
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.10.020
Authors Lindsey E. Sanders, Anna D. Chalfoun
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biological Conservation
Index ID 70223343
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle; Fort Collins Science Center