Effects of Landscape-Scale Environmental Variation on Greater Sage-Grouse Chick Survival
Effective long-term wildlife conservation planning for a species must be guided by information about population vital rates at multiple scales. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) populations declined substantially during the twentieth century, largely as a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. In addition to the importance of conserving large tracts of suitable habitat, successful conservation of this species will require detailed information about factors affecting vital rates at both the population and range-wide scales. Research has shown that sage-grouse population growth rates are particularly sensitive to hen and chick survival rates. While considerable information on hen survival exists, there is limited information about chick survival at the population level, and currently there are no published reports of factors affecting chick survival across large spatial and temporal scales. We analyzed greater sage-grouse chick survival rates from 2 geographically distinct populations across 9 years. The effects of 3 groups of related landscape-scale covariates (climate, drought, and phenology of vegetation greenness) were evaluated. Models with phenological change in greenness (NDVI) performed poorly, possibly due to highly variable production of forbs and grasses being masked by sagebrush canopy. The top drought model resulted in substantial improvement in model fit relative to the base model and indicated that chick survival was negatively associated with winter drought. Our overall top model included effects of chick age, hen age, minimum temperature in May, and precipitation in July. Our results provide important insights into the possible effects of climate variability on sage-grouse chick survival.