Another SAGR Paper!

Beringia South is proud to announce another Sage Grouse publication this month! 

"Low neutral genetic diversity in isolated Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) populations in northwest Wyoming" will be included in the November issue of The Condor 

We've included the abstract below, and the full article is available at The Condor's website.

Identifying small, isolated populations is a conservation priority, not only because isolation may result in negative fitness consequences, but these populations may also harbor unique genetic diversity. The Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a widespread obligate species of the sagebrush biome in western North America that has experienced range-wide contraction over the past century. To prevent local extirpation, efforts have been made to identify isolated populations. Here, we analyzed 16 microsatellite loci from 300 Greater Sage-Grouse individuals to assess genetic structure among populations in Wyoming and southeast Montana, particularly with the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre populations in northwest Wyoming. Four genetic clusters were observed with Pinedale (central-west) and Casper (central) populations forming a cluster, Powder River Basin (central-north) and southeast Montana forming a second cluster, and both Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre forming distinct population clusters. All but the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre genetic differentiation correspond with designated ecoregions and possessed an isolation-by-distance pattern of differentiation. Both Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre were identified as separate populations with asymmetrical dispersal into Gros Ventre. Both populations also possessed significantly reduced genetic diversity and low effective number of breeders (Nb). Because both populations are surrounded by extensive forested mountain ranges nearly devoid of sagebrush habitat, the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre populations may have long been isolated from other Greater Sage-Grouse populations; however, only a few alleles were unique to the Jackson Hole and Gros Ventre populations. The observed genetic differentiation was largely due to allele frequency differences rather than private alleles, suggesting some historical gene flow. More work is needed to determine the timing of isolation and whether managers should focus on maintaining and increasing adequate sagebrush habitat, allowing the population to increase in size, or population supplementation to increase genetic diversity.

Sage Grouse Publication in Wildlife Monograph

We had some of our Sage Grouse work published in Wildlife Monograph. The work is titled, "Habitat Prioritization Across Large Landscapes, Multiple Seasons, and Novel Areas: An Example Using Greater Sage-Grouse in Wyoming." 

The abstract for the article is below, and you can click HERE for the full piece.

Animal habitat selection is an important and expansive area of research in ecology. In particular, the study of habitat selection is critical in habitat prioritization efforts for species of conservation concern. Landscape planning for species is happening at ever-increasing extents because of the appreciation for the role of landscape-scale patterns in species persistence coupled to improved datasets for species and habitats, and the expanding and intensifying footprint of human land uses on the landscape. We present a large-scale collaborative effort to develop habitat selection models across large landscapes and multiple seasons for prioritizing habitat for a species of conservation concern. Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus, hereafter sage-grouse) occur in western semi-arid landscapes in North America. Range-wide population declines of this species have been documented, and it is currently considered as “warranted but precluded” from listing under the United States Endangered Species Act. Wyoming is predicted to remain a stronghold for sage-grouse populations and contains approximately 37% of remaining birds. We compiled location data from 14 unique radiotelemetry studies (data collected 1994–2010) and habitat data from high-quality, biologically relevant, geographic information system (GIS) layers across Wyoming. We developed habitat selection models for greater sage-grouse across Wyoming for 3 distinct life stages: 1) nesting, 2) summer, and 3) winter. We developed patch and landscape models across 4 extents, producing statewide and regional (southwest, central, northeast) models for Wyoming. Habitat selection varied among regions and seasons, yet preferred habitat attributes generally matched the extensive literature on sage-grouse seasonal habitat requirements. Across seasons and regions, birds preferred areas with greater percentage sagebrush cover and avoided paved roads, agriculture, and forested areas. Birds consistently preferred areas with higher precipitation in the summer and avoided rugged terrain in the winter. Selection for sagebrush cover varied regionally with stronger selection in the Northeast region, likely because of limited availability, whereas avoidance of paved roads was fairly consistent across regions. We chose resource selection function (RSF) thresholds for each model set (seasonal × regional combination) that delineated important seasonal habitats for sage-grouse. Each model set showed good validation and discriminatory capabilities within study-site boundaries. We applied the nesting-season models to a novel area not included in model development. The percentage of independent nest locations that fell directly within identified important habitat was not overly impressive in the novel area (49%); however, including a 500-m buffer around important habitat captured 98% of independent nest locations within the novel area. We also used leks and associated peak male counts as a proxy for nesting habitat outside of the study sites used to develop the models. A 1.5-km buffer around the important nesting habitat boundaries included 77% of males counted at leks in Wyoming outside of the study sites. Data were not available to quantitatively test the performance of the summer and winter models outside our study sites. The collection of models presented here represents large-scale resource-management planning tools that are a significant advancement to previous tools in terms of spatial and temporal resolution. Published 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

Published Note in the Western North American Naturalist

CBS's most recent publication came out recently, a note in the journal Western North American Naturalist titled "Apparent adoption of orphaned cougars (Puma concolor) in northwestern Wyoming."

Here's the abstract to the article. Click here for the full read!

Cougars (Puma concolor) are widely distributed throughout the western portion of North America and are generally described as solitary carnivores. Most cougar social interactions have been described as instances of parental care, intraspecific strife, or breeding. We report an apparent case of an adoption of orphaned juveniles in a wild cougar population. We used radiotelemetry and direct visual observations to document an adult female, her 3 dependent offspring, and 2 orphaned juvenile males physically interacting, sharing bed sites, and sharing kills in the late winter of 2007/2008. We consider the potential benefits and/or negative effects of these social interactions, and the role that relatedness and/or familiarity may play in the motivation for developing such associations.

Ten Eagles or Three Weeks, Whichever Comes First

In late January, Bryan and Ross headed to eastern Montana to trap sub-adult golden eagles as part of Craighead Beringia South's ongoing study on Golden Eagle Breeding Ecology. Their goal was to capture 10 eagles against a 3-week deadline, outfitting each one with a GPS transmitter. The Eagle Crew was rounded out with the addition of Vince and Step, and on January 19, all four headed out to the field and their adventures began.

They started in the Bull Mountains before heading east across Montana. The Bulls were filled with elk, deer, rabbits, and eagles, and the team quickly trapped their first eagle. Within a few days as they moved across the state, the Eagle Crew had captured a couple more Goldens and had also seen the amazing sight of dozens of Bald Eagles attracted to one bait! As many as 6 Bald Eagles were feeding at one time! (Too bad the project required only Golden Eagles...)

By the time the crew finished up in Broadus things were really rolling as they trapped and outfitted another handful (armful?) of Goldens. One particularly interesting specimen was an adult with whitish colors in its tail and wings, as well as dark eye color, all suggestive of a sub-adult! Its molt patterns designated it definitely as an adult, however. Not all Golden Eagles follow the rules!

eagle wing.jpg

As the first week in February wrapped up, the crew worked their last long hours in the field and trapped their tenth and final Golden Eagle. After weeks of 12-hour days spent waiting and watching, the crew is back home safe and sound.

Here's a video we made awhile back that shows how we trap golden eagles, and stay tuned for news as we follow these sub-adults during their migrations!


Mongolian Travels: Gobi Bear Education & Outreach

Derek and Marilyn traveled to Mongolia in November to distribute CBS's educational syllabus on the ecology of the critically endangered Gobi Bear. They visited schools and met with government officials in order to promote the conservation of this rare species. You can read their full trip report below (simply click on the image), and click here to learn more about the Gobi Bear and our research.