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Demography of Female Greater Prairie-Chickens in Unfragmented Grasslands in Kansas

DOI: 10.5751/ace-00429-060102

Keywords: female condition , Galliformes , life history trade-off , predation , reproduction , Tympanuchus cupido

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Populations of Greater Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) have been declining because of loss and fragmentation of tallgrass prairie habitats, and management plans require contemporary demographic data. Our objectives were to determine whether maternal nutrition or predation were determinants of nesting success and female survival. We captured and radio-marked 43 females at four leks in natural, unfragmented prairie during a 4-year study. Reproductive potential was high because females laid large clutches (10.9 ± 0.3 eggs, n = 24), renested following clutch loss (22.2%, n = 27 females), and had high egg viability (88.6 ± 5.0% of eggs hatched; n = 7 nests), but reproductive traits were not correlated with female morphometrics (mass, or tarsus and keel lengths). Daily survival rate of nests was low (0.928, n = 34 nests) resulting in a predicted nest success rate of 7.4% for a 35-day exposure period. We used known fate models to estimate weekly survival from telemetry data for 40 females. Weekly survival was 0.970 and the extrapolated survival rate for the 6-month breeding season was 45.7%. Using time-since-marking Cormack-Jolly-Seber models for live encounter data to control for transience, annual apparent survival was 0.277 ± 0.081 SE for 55 marked females after initial capture, and 0.424 ± 0.139 during subsequent intervals. Survival of females was 1.6 to 2.0 times higher during the nonbreeding season than the breeding season, presumably because females are susceptible to predation during incubation and brood-rearing. Predation of nests and females may be the main demographic factors limiting population viability because predation, and not maternal nutrition, accounted for unexpectedly low nesting success and breeding season survival of Greater Prairie-Chickens in natural habitats. Future research should investigate rangeland practices that increase residual nesting cover or reduce predator impacts.


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