Demography of greater prairie-chickens: Regional variation in vital rates, sensitivity values, and population dynamics

Authors

  • Lance B. McNew,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
    • Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
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  • Andrew J. Gregory,

    1. Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. School of Forestry, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011.
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  • Samantha M. Wisely,

    1. Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Dept. of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.
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  • Brett K. Sandercock

    1. Division of Biology, Kansas State University, 116 Ackert Hall, Manhattan, KS 66506, USA
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  • Associate Editor: Gary White

Abstract

Intensification of rangeland management has coincided with population declines among obligate grassland species in the largest remaining tallgrass prairie in North America, although causes of declines remain unknown. We modeled population dynamics and conducted sensitivity analyses from demographic data collected for an obligate grassland bird that is an indicator species for tallgrass prairie, the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido), during a 4-year study in east-central Kansas, USA. We examined components of reproductive effort and success, juvenile survival, and annual adult female survival for 3 populations of prairie-chickens across an ecological gradient of human landscape alteration and land use. We observed regional differences in reproductive performance, survivorship, and population dynamics. All 3 populations of prairie-chickens were projected to decline steeply given observed vital rates, but rates of decline differed across a gradient of landscape alteration, with the greatest declines in fragmented landscapes. Elasticity values, variance-scaled sensitivities, and contribution values from a random-effects life-table response experiment all showed that the finite rate of population change was more sensitive to changes in adult survival than other demographic parameters in our declining populations. The rate of population change was also sensitive to nest survival at the most fragmented and least intensively grazed study site; suggesting that patterns of landscape fragmentation and land use may be affecting the relative influences of underlying vital rates on rates of population growth. Our model results indicate that 1) populations of prairie-chickens in eastern Kansas are unlikely to be viable without gains from immigration, 2) rates of population decline vary among areas under different land management practices, 3) human land-use patterns may affect the relative influences of vital rates on population trajectories, and 4) anthropogenic effects on population demography may influence the regional life-history strategies of a short-lived game bird. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

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