The over-winter ecology of lesser prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) in the northeast Texas Panhandle
Since the 1800s, lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus; LPC) populations have exhibited range-wide declines. Most aspects of the LPC?s over-winter ecology are poorly understood across the species? range, but especially in the northeast Texas Panhandle. We investigated space-use, habitat selection, and survival patterns for over-wintering LPCs between 1 September 2008 and 28 February 2010.
We captured and monitored 41 LPCs (34 males and 7 hens) from 8 leks during the course of the study. We collected 1,229 locations from 19 LPCs during the over-winter of 2008?2009, and 1,984 locations from 29 LPCs during the over-winter of 2009?2010. We observed that ?98% of LPC locations were within 5.0 km of their leks-of-capture and ?98% were within 2.4 km of a known lek. We did not observe LPCs utilizing agricultural fields, possibly because most agriculture near leks was dominated by wheat (Triticum aestivum). Both genders consistently selected grassland landcover over shrubland landcover types. Our results underscore the need to conserve grassland landcover for over-wintering LPCs. We agree with previous management recommendations that rangelands within 5.0 km should be managed for over-wintering LPCs, but we further recommend prioritizing rangeland within 2.4 km of all the leks in an area.
We found that cause-specific mortality rates were equally attributable to mammalian (M = 0.133, SE = 0.056) and avian (M = 0.198, SE = 0.063) predators. We evaluated 22 competing survival models using the second-order Akaike?s Information Criterion (AICc). Model selection indicated that mean patch size of shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) rangelands best explained over-winter survival. However, limited sample size likely contributed to uncertainty in our models. Our results suggested that managing for large, contiguous patches of shinnery oak could be counter-productive for LPC over-winter survival.