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Trends of lesser prairie-chicken habitat extent and distribution on the Southern High Plains

August 6, 2022

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is a species of prairie grouse that occupies grassland ecosystems in the Southern and Central High Plains of the Great Plains. Reduced abundance and occupied ranges have led to increased conservation efforts throughout the species’ range. Habitat loss is considered the predominant cause of these declines. In the Southern High Plains of Texas and New Mexico, lesser prairie-chicken habitat corresponds to the Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie Ecoregion, which is comprised of a mixture of sand shinnery oak (Quercus havardii)-dominated grasslands, sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia)-dominated grasslands, and mixed grasslands. In sand shinnery oak–grassland communities, conversion to row-crop agriculture, continuous unmanaged livestock grazing, restriction of natural fire, invasive plant species (e.g., mesquite (Prosopis spp.)), extensive use of herbicides, energy development, and a variety of other factors have also negatively affected ecosystem extent and function. We integrated historical maps and remote sensing-derived information to measure trends in the extent and geographical distribution of sand shinnery oak prairies in eastern New Mexico and northwest Texas. Potential lesser prairie-chicken habitat was reduced by 56% from a potential of 43,258 km2 to 18,908 km2 in ~115 years (since pre-settlement). Our assessment indicated both mixed grasslands and sand shinnery oak-dominated grasslands were transformed from large parcels of existing vegetation communities to urban settlements, row crops, roads, and industrial land uses by the 1970s. Currently, potential habitat is highly fragmented and restricted to isolated locations in Texas and New Mexico, with an increasing dominance in mixed grasslands, especially in the southeastern portion of the lesser prairie-chicken range. Sand shinnery oak-dominated grasslands have been declining rapidly, from 69% of its potential extent in 1985, 65% in 1995, 54% in 2005, to 42% in 2015. Mixed grasslands drastically declined to 50% of its potential distribution by 1985. Since then, it has been stable until the 2005–2015 period when it declined to 45% of its potential extent. Based on the 2015 assessment, the current potential habitat for lesser prairie chicken is estimated at 18,908 km2 (1,890,800 ha or 4.6 million acres), where 13,126 km2 corresponds to mixed grasslands and 5782 km2 corresponds to sand shinnery oak-dominated grasslands.

Publication Year 2022
Title Trends of lesser prairie-chicken habitat extent and distribution on the Southern High Plains
DOI 10.3390/rs14153780
Authors Carlos Portillo-Quintero, Blake Grisham, David A. Haukos, Clint W. Boal, Christian A. Hagen, Zhanming Wan, Mukti Subedi, Nwasinachi Menkiti
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Remote Sensing
Index ID 70254833
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle