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Vegetation treatments have been widely implemented in efforts to enhance conditions for wildlife populations. Yet the effectiveness of such efforts often lack rigorous evaluations to determine whether these practices are effective for targeted species. This is particularly important when manipulating wildlife habitats in ecosystems that are faced with multiple stressors. The sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystem has been altered extensively over the last century leading to declines of many associated species. Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata wyomingensis) is the most widely distributed subspecies, providing important habitats for sagebrush‐obligate and associated wildlife. Sagebrush often has been treated with chemicals, mechanical treatments, and prescribed burning to increase herbaceous forage species released from competition with sagebrush overstory. Despite many studies documenting negative effects of sagebrush control on greater sage‐grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) habitat, treatments are still proposed as a means of improving habitat for sage‐grouse and other sagebrush‐dependent species. Furthermore, most studies have focused on vegetation response and none have rigorously evaluated the direct influence of these treatments on sage‐grouse. We initiated a 9‐year (2011–2019) experimental study in central Wyoming, USA, to better understand how greater sage‐grouse respond to sagebrush reduction treatments in Wyoming big sagebrush communities. We evaluated the influence of 2 common sagebrush treatments on greater sage‐grouse demography and resource selection. We implemented mowing and tebuthiuron application in winter and spring 2014 and evaluated the pre‐ (2011–2013) and post‐treatment (2014–2019) responses of sage‐grouse relative to these management actions. We evaluated responses to treatments using demographic and behavioral data collected from 620 radio‐marked female greater sage‐grouse. Our specific objectives were to evaluate how treatments influenced 1) sage‐grouse reproductive success and female survival; 2) sage‐grouse nesting, brood‐rearing, and female resource selection; 3) vegetation responses; and 4) forbs and invertebrates. Our results generally suggested neutral demographic responses and slight avoidance by greater sage‐grouse in response to Wyoming big sagebrush treated by mowing and tebuthiuron. Neither mowing nor tebuthiuron treatments influenced nest survival, brood survival, or female survival. Selection for nest and brood‐rearing sites did not differ before and after treatments. Females selected habitats near treatments before and after they were implemented; however, the strength of selection was lower after treatments compared with pre‐treatment periods, which may be explained by a lack of response in vegetation and invertebrates following treatments. Perennial grass cover and height varied temporally yet did not vary systematically between treatment and control plots. Forb cover and species richness varied annually but not in relation to either treatment type. Perennial grass cover and height, forb cover, and forb species richness did not increase within mowed or tebuthiuron‐treated areas that received 2 or 6 years of grazing rest compared with areas that received no grazing rest. Finally, forb and invertebrate dry mass did not differ between treated plots and control plots at mowing or tebuthiuron sites in any years following treatments. Results from our study add to a large body of evidence that sage‐grouse using Wyoming big sagebrush vegetation communities do not respond positively to sagebrush manipulation treatments. Management practices that focus on the maintenance of large, undisturbed tracts of sagebrush will best facilitate the persistence of sage‐grouse populations and other species reliant on the sagebrush steppe.
Wildlife Monographs – Wiley
Published: Jul 1, 2023
Keywords: Artemisia tridentata; Centrocercus urophasianus; greater sage‐grouse; invertebrate response; mechanical mowing; resource selection; sagebrush; survival; tebuthiuron; Wyoming
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