Extending conifer removal and landscape protection strategies from sage-grouse to songbirds, a range-wide assessment

J. Patrick Donnelly, Jason D. Tack, Kevin E. Doherty, David E. Naugle, Brady W. Allred, Victoria J. Dreitz

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Recent and unprecedented scale of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) conservation in the American West enables assessment of community-level benefits afforded to other sagebrush-obligate species. We use North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) count data and machine-learning to assess predictors influencing spatial distribution and abundance of three sagebrush-obligate songbirds (Brewer's sparrow [Spizella breweri], sagebrush sparrow [Artemisiospiza nevadensis], and sage thrasher [Oreoscoptes montanus]). We quantified co-occurrence of songbird abundance with sage-grouse lek distributions using point pattern analyses and evaluated the concurrence of songbird abundance within sage-grouse habitat restoration and landscape protection. Sagebrush land-cover predictors were positively associated with the abundance of each songbird species in models that explained 16-37% of variation in BBS route level counts. Individual songbird models identified an apparent 40% threshold in sagebrush land-cover, over which songbird abundances nearly doubled. Songbird abundances were positively associated with sage-grouse distributions (P b 0.01); range-wide, landscapes supporting N 50% of males on leks also harbored 13-19% higher densities of songbirds compared with range-wide mean densities. Eighty-five percent of the conifer removal conducted through the Sage Grouse Initiative coincided with high to moderate Brewer's sparrow abundance. Wyoming's landscape protection (i.e., "core area") strategy for sage-grouse encompasses half the high to moderate abundance sagebrush sparrow and sage thrasher populations. In the Great Basin half the high to moderate abundance sagebrush sparrow and sage thrasher populations coincide with sage-grouse Fire and Invasive Assessment Tool priorities, where conservation actions are being focused in an attempt to reduce the threat of wildfire and invasive plants. Our work illustrates spatially targeted actions being implemented ostensibly for sage-grouse largely overlap high abundance centers for three sagebrush obligate passerines and are likely providing significant conservation benefits for less well-known sagebrush songbirds and other sagebrush-associated wildlife.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)95-105
    Number of pages11
    JournalRangeland Ecology and Management
    Volume70
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Jan 2017

    Keywords

    • Brewer's sparrow
    • conifer removal
    • sage thrasher
    • sage-grouse
    • sagebrush landscape protection
    • sagebrush sparrow

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