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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources Research

Title: Mountain plover nest survival in relation to prairie dog and fire dynamics in shortgrass steppe

Authors
item Augustine, David
item Skagen, Susan -

Submitted to: Journal of Wildlife Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 10, 2014
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
Citation: Augustine, D.J., Skagen, S. 2014. Mountain plover nest survival in relation to prairie dog and fire dynamics in shortgrass steppe. Journal of Wildlife Management. 78(4):595-602.

Interpretive Summary: Grasslands with short, sparse vegetation provide important breeding habitat for mountain plovers across the western Great Plains. Prairie dog conservation and prescribed fire may contribute to the sustainability of recently declining mountain plover populations, but these management approaches can be controversial. We estimated habitat-specific mountain plover densities and nest survival rates on prairie dog colonies and recent burns to quantify the value of the two habitats for nesting mountain plovers in the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado. Mountain plover densities were similar on prairie dog colonies and recent burns, whereas nest survival rates were greater on prairie dog colonies compared to recent burns. Low nest survival in 2012 compared to 2011 was associated with much warmer afternoon temperatures in 2012. Removal of prairie dogs by sylvatic plague reduced mountain plover density by 70% relative to active prairie dog colonies in one year. Plover densities declined by a similar amount (by 78%) at burned sites between the first and second post-burn growing season. Results indicate that black-tailed prairie dog colonies are a particularly important nesting habitat for mountain plovers in the southern Great Plains. In addition, findings suggest that prescribed burning can be used to create nesting habitat in landscapes where other types of disturbances (such as prairie dog colonies) are not available.

Technical Abstract: Disturbed xeric grasslands with short, sparse vegetation provide important breeding habitat for mountain plovers (Charadrius montanus) across the western Great Plains. Maintaining local disturbance regimes through prairie dog conservation and prescribed fire may contribute to the sustainability of recently declining mountain plover populations, but these management approaches can be controversial. We estimated habitat-specific mountain plover densities and nest survival rates on black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies and recent burns to quantify the value of the two habitats for nesting mountain plovers in the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado. Mountain plover densities were similar on prairie dog colonies and recent burns, whereas the 29-day nest survival rate was greater on prairie dog colonies (0.81 in 2011 and 0.39 in 2012) compared to recent burns (0.64 in 2011 and 0.17 in 2012). Reduced nest survival in 2012 compared to 2011 was associated with higher maximum daily temperatures in 2012, consistent with a previous weather-based model of mountain plover nest survival in the southern Great Plains. Measurements of mountain plover density relative to time since disturbance showed that removal of prairie dog disturbance by sylvatic plague reduced mountain plover density by 70% relative to active prairie dog colonies in one year. Plover densities declined at a similar rate (by 78%) at burned sites between the first and second post-burn growing season. Results indicate that black-tailed prairie dog colonies are a particularly important nesting habitat for mountain plovers in the southern Great Plains. In addition, findings suggest that prescribed burning can be a valuable means to create nesting habitat in landscapes where other types of disturbances (such as prairie dog colonies) are limited in distribution and size.

Last Modified: 11/22/2014
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