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Keywords:

  • aerial survey;
  • detectability;
  • fixed-wing aircraft;
  • helicopter;
  • lek;
  • lesser prairie-chicken;
  • New Mexico;
  • Texas;
  • Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

Abstract

Lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) are traditionally monitored by spring road-based lek surveys and counts of males attending leks. Several weaknesses exist with ground-based monitoring methods such as the bias of restricting surveys to roads, unknown probability of lek detection, and man-hours required to survey large tracts of habitat. We evaluated aerial surveys to locate lesser prairie-chicken leks in Texas and New Mexico using a Cessna 172 airplane (C172), R-22 Beta II helicopter (R-22), and R-44 Raven II helicopter (R-44) during spring 2007–2008. We determined lek activity during surveys with remote cameras placed on leks and cross-referenced time on the photo frame to time on our Global Positioning System flight log. From remote cameras we found that 305 leks were available for detection during survey flights. We determined lek detectability was 32.7% (95% CI = 20.3–47.1%) in the C172, 72.3% (64.50–79.14%) in the R-22, and 89.8% (82.0–95.0%) in the R-44. We created 16 a priori logistic regression models incorporating aircraft platform, distance to lek, survey date, lek size, and lek type to explain lek detection from aerial surveys. Our top ranked model included platform, distance, and lek type (model weight; wi = 0.288). We had four competitive models and model averaged to draw inferences. Model averaging showed that detectability was generally greatest with the R-44, followed by the R-22, and lowest with the C172, with a slight deviation from this ranking at increased distances. Within our transect width, model averaging also suggested that detectability decreased as distance from the transect to the lek increased during helicopter surveys, and detectability increased as distance from the transect to the lek increased during C172 surveys. Furthermore, man-made leks were more likely to be detected than natural leks and large leks were more likely to be detected than medium or small leks. Aerial surveys effectively locate new leks and monitor lek density, and alleviate weaknesses associated with ground-based monitoring. We recommend using the R-44 to conduct lek surveys while flying at an altitude of 15 m at a speed of 60 km/hr on sunny mornings. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.