Maladaptive nest-site selection by a sagebrush dependent species in a grazing-modified landscape


Animals are expected to select habitats that maximize their fitness over evolutionary time scales. Yet in human-modified landscapes, habitat selection might not always lead to increased fitness because animals undervalue high-quality resources that appear less attractive than those of lower quality. In the American West, agriculture has modified landscapes, yet little is known about whether agricultural changes alter the reliability of the cues animals use to identify habitat quality; ultimately forming maladaptive breeding strategies where behavioral cues are mismatched with survival outcomes. Using the greater sage-grouse, a species highly dependent upon sagebrush landscapes, we (1) evaluated how females select nesting habitats based on sagebrush type, along with livestock grazing related linear and point features, and other biotic, abiotic characteristics, given hypothesized influences on hiding cover, microclimate and predator travel routes and perches, (2) compared habitat selection information with results for nest survival estimates to evaluate if selection appears to be adaptive or not, and (3) used our results to evaluate the most appropriate strategies for this species in a grazing-modified landscape. Nest-site selection for sagebrush type appears to be maladaptive: in the most-preferred sagebrush type, nest survival rate was one-fourth the rate realized by females nesting in the sagebrush type avoided. Nest survival was four times higher for nests placed away from (>100 m), rather than next to (1 m), the nearest fence, and survival was lower within sites with higher cow pie density (a proxy for previous grazing intensity). Live and dead grasses influenced selection and survival in opposing ways such that dead grass was selected for but resulted in reduced survival while live grass was avoided but resulted in increased survival. Results collectively provide the first empirical evidence that a specific type of sagebrush acts as an ecological trap while another sagebrush type is undervalued. These results also suggest that adding more fences to control livestock grazing systems will likely reduce sage-grouse nest survival.




Cutting, Kyle A., Jay J. Rotella, Sean R. Schroff, Michael R. Frisina, James A. Waxe, Erika Nunlist, and Bok F. Sowell. "Maladaptive nest-site selection by a sagebrush dependent species in a grazing-modified landscape." Journal of Environmental Management 236 (April 2019): 622-630. DOI:10.1016/j.jenvman.2019.01.085.
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