Persistence of greater sage-grouse in agricultural landscapes


Shirk, A.J., Schroeder, M.A., Robb, L.A., Cushman, S.A. 2017. Persistence of greater sage-grouse in agricultural landscapes. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 81(5): 905-918. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21268


Local extirpations influence species’ range contractions and are often precursors of range-wide extinction. Understanding extinction dynamics is important for devising effective management strategies to protect threatened and endangered species. The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is an example of a species undergoing range contraction, and has been extirpated from nearly half its historically occupied habitat. We used species distribution modeling to quantify environmental variables constraining a threatened sage-grouse population inhabiting an agricultural landscape in Washington, USA. Fields planted to perennial vegetation as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) were important in providing year-round habitat for sage-grouse but only when intermixed with native sagebrush-steppe vegetation. Without the CRP, we estimate 66% of sage-grouse habitat in the study area would become unsuitable. Conversely, if CRP allotments were concentrated near occupied native sagebrush-steppe, we estimate the area of sage-grouse habitat could be increased by up to 63%. In addition to the area of native sagebrush-steppe and CRP lands, we also found that climate variability, the patch configuration of sagebrush-steppe, and proximity to major roads and transmission lines constrain the distribution of occupied habitat within the study area. Our study demonstrates how conservation programs such as CRP may be used as a management tool to reduce the risk of extirpation in agricultural areas, and to facilitate species range shifts in response to climatic changes in the sagebrush biome.