Identifying the causes of greater sage-grouse population decline

sage grouse hens

Understanding the relationship between a species and its environment is critical for wildlife conservation. To effectively conserve greater sage-grouse populations, we require knowledge of how they interact with their environment, and their response to human-induced changes to the landscape. The primary techniques used to understand species-habitat relationships currently have several shortcomings that investigators aim to address.

In this project, the team is considering two new developments that will help understand species-habitat relationships. First, current methods rely on modeling static and correlative relationships between a species and its environment, ignoring why those correlations occur. As a result, current methods have been limited in their ability to project species patterns over space and time into new environments, or new combinations of environmental factors. This has limited current methods capabilities as a predictive tool for examining the potential impacts of human-induced change. 

Second, current methods typically ignore that observed data result from ecological effects that occur at multiple places and times. Further, very few studies have attempted to couple habitat selection with survival and reproduction. Thus, there is a need for new methods that enable us to link fine-scale ecological effects to large-scale ecological effects. This connection will help us understand how local survival, reproduction, and movement link to large-scale patterns such as anthropogenic change, and will help improve predictions through space and time. 

This research will extend habitat-modeling methods by explicitly incorporating ecological effects that influence the distribution and abundance of greater sage-grouse. Further, investigators will appropriately account for the uncertainty inherent in understanding of the ecological effects that govern greater sage-grouse populations using novel statistical frameworks. Investigators seek to develop methods that apply to small and large scales, using information obtained at the small scale to better understand changes that occur across the landscape. 

The methods Investigators seek to develop are general, and apply to other animals besides greater sage-grouse. However, application of these methods to greater sage-grouse will help to examine hypotheses related to greater sage-grouse resource selection, and the resulting impacts on population dynamics. Further, application to greater sage grouse will help to identify critical areas of our uncertainty in greater sage-grouse ecology in Nevada to guide future research efforts.