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Alternative Rangeland Management Strategies and the Nesting Ecology of Greater Prairie-ChickensPopulation declines of grassland birds over the past 30 yr have followed the widespread implementation of intensive rangeland management practices that create homogenous grassland habitats. Patch-burn grazing (PBG) was tested as an alternative management technique that is ecologically similar to historically heterogeneous fire and grazing regimes and holds promise as a rangeland management tool that may benefit grassland wildlife. We conducted a 3-year study to compare nest-site selection and nest survival of greater prairie-chickens, an umbrella species for tallgrass prairie conservation, on private lands managed with PBG or intensive fire and grazing in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The goal of our field study was to evaluate the relationships among rangeland management practices, habitat conditions, and nesting ecology of greater prairie-chickens. Nest-site selection and nest survival of prairie-chickens were both directly related to vertical nesting cover, which was determined by the fire return interval of a pasture. Nesting habitat was affected little by stocking rate in PBG management regimes because preferred nest sites were unburned patches that were not grazed by cattle. Overall, the quantity and quality of nesting sites was improved under PBG management when compared with more intensive rangeland management regimes. Our results join a growing body of evidence that rangeland management strategies that mimic historical heterogeneous fire and grazing regimes benefit native species of prairie wildlife. © 2015 Society for Range Management. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Weather constrains the influence of fire and grazing on nesting greater prairie-chickensGrasslands are highly imperiled as a result of widespread conversion for agriculture and alteration from human development. Remaining grasslands are susceptible to mismanagement, development and fragmentation, and variable weather associated with global climate change. Understanding the response of declining grassland species to these challenges will be important for informed conservation and management. We assessed Greater Prairie-Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) survival and nest site selection in tallgrass prairie characterized by interacting fire and grazing disturbance and oil and gas infrastructure. We found that Greater Prairie-Chicken survival was most affected by weather variability (expressed in our models as solar radiation) while most other variables had little influence. Focal disturbance did not affect survival directly, but vegetation height, which is greatly influenced by fire and grazing processes, was positively associated with nest survival. Greater Prairie-Chickens chose nesting locations that maximized time post fire while minimizing tree cover and distance to leks. Future conservation efforts for Greater Prairie-Chickens should focus on variable fire regimens that create areas of residual biomass to increase vegetation height and potentially reduce the effects of solar radiation while decreasing woody vegetation that is avoided by nesting females. However, even the best management practices may prove to be futile in the southern Great Plains if climate change continues to create unfavorable nest survival conditions. Management that creates and maintains suitable nesting sites through the use of interacting fire and grazing should maximize the potential for high reproduction in years when local weather variables are favorable. © 2015 Society for Range Management. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.