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Keywords:

  • aerial survey;
  • energy development;
  • grassland;
  • hierarchical distance sampling;
  • landscape characteristics;
  • natural gas;
  • oil;
  • roads;
  • shrubland;
  • Tympanuchus pallidicinctus

ABSTRACT

As with many other grassland birds, lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) have experienced population declines in the Southern Great Plains. Currently they are proposed for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In addition to a history of land-uses that have resulted in habitat loss, lesser prairie-chickens now face a new potential disturbance from energy development. We estimated lek density in the occupied lesser prairie-chicken range of Texas, USA, and modeled anthropogenic and vegetative landscape features associated with lek density. We used an aerial line-transect survey method to count lesser prairie-chicken leks in spring 2010 and 2011 and surveyed 208 randomly selected 51.84-km2 blocks. We divided each survey block into 12.96-km2 quadrats and summarized landscape variables within each quadrat. We then used hierarchical distance-sampling models to examine the relationship between lek density and anthropogenic and vegetative landscape features and predict how lek density may change in response to changes on the landscape, such as an increase in energy development. Our best models indicated lek density was related to percent grassland, region (i.e., the northeast or southwest region of the Texas Panhandle), total percentage of grassland and shrubland, paved road density, and active oil and gas well density. Predicted lek density peaked at 0.39 leks/12.96 km2 (SE = 0.09) and 2.05 leks/12.96 km2 (SE = 0.56) in the northeast and southwest region of the Texas Panhandle, respectively, which corresponds to approximately 88% and 44% grassland in the northeast and southwest region. Lek density increased with an increase in total percentage of grassland and shrubland and was greatest in areas with lower densities of paved roads and lower densities of active oil and gas wells. We used the 2 most competitive models to predict lek abundance and estimated 236 leks (CV = 0.138, 95% CI = 177–306 leks) for our sampling area. Our results suggest that managing landscapes to maintain a greater percentage of grassland and shrubland on the landscape with a greater ratio of grasses to shrubs in the northeast Panhandle should promote greater lek density. Furthermore, increases in paved road and active oil and gas well densities may reduce lek density. This information will be useful for future conservation planning efforts for land protection, policy decisions, and decision analyses. © 2013 The Wildlife Society