Carry-over effects in partially migratory greater sage-grouse, southwest Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Migration is a common natural phenomenon and an important life history strategy for many animal species. Migration allows individuals to accommodate changing environmental conditions, with the potential to increase survival or future reproduction. Many migratory species are subject to carry-over effects, where conditions experienced during one season or life stage influence subsequent life stages. Previous research has largely focused on evaluating the influence of carry-over effects on long-distance migrants, but less is known about these influences on shorter-distance migrants. During research in southwest Montana and southeast Idaho, we used VHF radio collars, red blood cells, stable isotopes, and morphometric information to understand the influence of carry-over effects on Greater Sage-grouse. In this population, some individuals migrate only short distances, while others may not migrate at all. We evaluated the influence of 1) different migration strategies and breeding locations on the body condition of females before breeding and 2) how variation in pre-breeding body condition influenced subsequent reproduction. We found non-migratory individuals were in better pre- breeding body condition than migrants during years with less winter precipitation. Similarly, individuals who experienced less precipitation during the breeding season also had higher pre- breeding body condition. Pre-breeding body condition positively influenced offspring weight early in the breeding season, but this relationship was less apparent later in the season. Our data suggest carry-over effects occur in this population of sage-grouse, but the magnitude of these effects was largely dependent on environmental conditions and timing of breeding. With increasing evidence of carry-over effects in sage-grouse populations, managers should broaden their conservation strategies to account for all life stages. Protecting a variety of winter habitat both near and distant from breeding areas will ensure the persistence and reproductive contribution of individuals with different migration strategies. Furthermore, protecting all known sage-grouse leks provides variation within a single population which allows for flexibility to respond in changing environments. Maintaining or enhancing landscape-level habitat heterogeneity supports variable life-history strategies and is critical for sage-grouse conservation.




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