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Monday, February 6 • 3:20pm - 3:40pm
Technical Session. Influence of Raptor Abundance on Female Lesser Prairie-Chicken Habitat Selection

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AUTHORS: Chelsea Sink, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Kansas State University; David Haukos, U.S. Geological Survey, Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

ABSTRACT: Despite intensive management practices aimed at increasing population numbers, the lesser-prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicintctus) remains a conservation concern across its range. One possible cause of decline is predation, as lesser prairie-chickens are subject to predation by many opportunistic mammalian and avian predators. Studies have documented lesser prairie-chicken reactions to avian predators at leks and avoidance of tall structures that could serve as perching sites, suggesting they are able to assess different levels of predation risk, but little is known about how birds react to a change in predator abundance over time. Using data on weekly raptor abundance and locations of satellite-tagged female lesser prairie-chickens recorded during the 2014 and 2015 breeding seasons (March 15 – September 15) throughout the species range in Kansas, we compared female lesser prairie-chicken mortality and vegetation characteristics of habitats used by females use during weeks of above- and below-average raptor abundance. While the effect of predator abundance on female lesser prairie-chicken survival rates is unknown, we found a positive correlation between weekly raptor abundance and level of female mortality. However, females do not appear to change habitat use in response to variation in raptor predation risk. After comparing habitat used by females with broods and random points 300 m away, brooding females appear to select large homogenous patches of vegetation instead of selecting habitat at the microscale within the patch. Although predation risk increases with predator abundance, we found that female lesser prairie-chickens using habitat with reduced available vegetation cover had greater mortality events than those in patches with relatively greater vegetation cover even when raptor abundance was low. Therefore, populations of lesser prairie-chickens in ecoregions with low vegetation cover, like the short-grass prairie, are at a greater risk of avian predation than populations in ecoregions with greater vegetation cover.

Monday February 6, 2017 3:20pm - 3:40pm CST
Grand Ballroom B