Conservation and Ecology Research of Lesser Prairie-Chickens

USGS Cooperative Research Unit Corner

Conservation and Ecology Research of Lesser Prairie-Chickens


Over a five-year period, Drs. David Haukos and Clint Boal of the Kansas and Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units, respectively, organized a comprehensive review of all available information related to the lesser prairie-chicken, which culminated in the February 2016 publication of "Ecology and Conservation Lesser Prairie-Chickens". The publication is volume 48 in the Studies in Avian Biology Series of the Cooper Ornithological Society, published by CRC Press.

The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is the iconic species of the southwestern Great Plains. Their unique behavior, landscape-scale habitat needs, sensitivity to ecological and anthropogenic impacts, and elusive nature have contributed to consideration of the lesser prairie-chicken as an umbrella species for this semi-arid region. Unfortunately, the occupied range and abundance of lesser prairie-chickens have dramatically declined in the past century resulting in listing of the species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2014. The listing decision was vacated by a judge on procedural grounds. However, the concerns and threats that led to the initial decision to list the species as threatened remain. Furthermore, the jurisdictional uncertainty regarding responsibility for the species has effectively hindered conservation efforts. Given the perilous status of the lesser prairie-chicken, there was a desperate need for a compilation of available information on the ecology of the species to guide status assessments, policy decisions, and conservation planning.

The 31 contributors combined to create 18 chapters in the over 350 page volume. They framed a comprehensive approach to the volume describing history of conservation efforts related to the species and their habitats, legal status, life history strategies, natural and anthropogenic stressors, conservation strategies, and a complete description of landscapes and habitats for specific ecoregions that comprise isolated populations of lesser prairie-chickens.

The history chapter by Randy Rodgers provides a comprehensive look back into the environmental conditions, conservation initiatives, and policy decisions that preceded the current status of the species. William Van Pelt simplifies the complex legal situation and outlines a comprehensive conservation response to the legal status of the species. The population dynamics, including a reconstruction of population fluctuations during the past 40-50 years for each ecoregion, is provided by Edward Garton and coauthors. Randy DeYoung and Damon Williford provide a novel perspective on the population genetics for prairie grouse concentrating on the lesser prairie-chicken. Known and potential diseases that may affect lesser prairie-chickens are described by Markus Peterson. The remainder of the Ecology section of the volume includes chapters on predation by Clint Boal, habitat by David Haukos and Jennifer Zavaleta, and harvest by Haukos and others. The section on Emerging Issues includes chapters on management strategies for public versus private land by R. Dwayne Elmore and David Dahlgren, impacts of energy development by Anne Bartuszevige and Alex Daniels, climate change by Blake Grisham and others, and a case study on conservation by Patricia McDaniel and Betty Williamson.

The heart of the volume is the Conservation and Management section where each of the four ecoregions are described in a comprehensive fashion leading to potential management strategies and unique approaches to conservation. The ecoregion specific chapters include the Grasslands of Western Kansas North of the Arkansas River by David Dahlgren and others; Sand Sagebrush Prairie by David Haukos and others; Mixed-Grass Prairie by Donald Wolfe and others; and the Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie by Blake Grisham and others. The volume concludes with a synthesis chapter by Christian Hagen and R. Dwayne Elmore that poses difficult and thoughtful questions regarding the future of the species.

"Ecology and Conservation Lesser Prairie-Chickens" will serve as the foundational reference for conservation and management of the species. The goal for the volume is to provide land managers, policy makers, and conservation planners with an easy to use guide to all known information regarding the ecology of the lesser prairie-chicken.

The ONB features articles from Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units across the country. Working with key cooperators, including WMI, Units are leading exciting, new fish and wildlife research projects that we believe our readers will appreciate reading about. This article was written by David Haukos, Unit Leader at the USGS Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Kansas State University, and by Clint Boal, Assistant Unit Leader at USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Texas Tech University.

March 16, 2016