[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Most examples of seasonal mismatches in phenology span multiple trophic levels, with timing of animal reproduction, hibernation, or migration becoming detached from peak food supply. The consequences of such mismatches are difficult to link to specific future climate change scenarios because the responses across trophic levels have complex underlying climate drivers often confounded by other stressors. In contrast, seasonal coat color polyphenism creating camouflage against snow is a direct and potentially severe type of seasonal mismatch if crypsis becomes compromised by the animal being white when snow is absent. It is unknown whether plasticity in the initiation or rate of coat color change will be able to reduce mismatch between the seasonal coat color and an increasingly snow-free background. We find that natural populations of snowshoe hares exposed to 3 y of widely varying snowpack have plasticity in the rate of the spring white-to-brown molt, but not in either the initiation dates of color change or the rate of the fall brown-to-white molt. Using an ensemble of locally downscaled climate projections, we also show that annual average duration of snowpack is forecast to decrease by 29-35 d by midcentury and 40-69 d by the end of the century. Without evolution in coat color phenology, the reduced snow duration will increase the number of days that white hares will be mismatched on a snowless background by four- to eightfold by the end of the century. This novel and visually compelling climate change-induced stressor likely applies to >9 widely distributed mammals with seasonal coat color.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 04/2013; · 9.74 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Species of conservation concern are increasingly threatened by multiple, anthropogenic stressors which are outside their evolutionary experience. Greater sage-grouse are highly susceptible to the impacts of two such stressors: oil and gas (energy) development and West Nile virus (WNv). However, the combined effects of these stressors and their potential interactions have not been quantified. We used lek (breeding ground) counts across a landscape encompassing extensive local and regional variation in the intensity of energy development to quantify the effects of energy development on lek counts, in years with widespread WNv outbreaks and in years without widespread outbreaks. We then predicted the effects of well density and WNv outbreak years on sage-grouse in northeast Wyoming. Absent an outbreak year, drilling an undeveloped landscape to a high permitting level (3.1 wells/km(2)) resulted in a 61% reduction in the total number of males counted in northeast Wyoming (total count). This was similar in magnitude to the 55% total count reduction that resulted from an outbreak year alone. However, energy-associated reductions in the total count resulted from a decrease in the mean count at active leks, whereas outbreak-associated reductions resulted from a near doubling of the lek inactivity rate (proportion of leks with a last count = 0). Lek inactivity quadrupled when 3.1 wells/km(2) was combined with an outbreak year, compared to no energy development and no outbreak. Conservation measures should maintain sagebrush landscapes large and intact enough so that leks are not chronically reduced in size due to energy development, and therefore vulnerable to becoming inactive due to additional stressors.
PLoS ONE 01/2013; 8(8):e71256. · 3.73 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Management strategies for the recovery of declining bird populations often must be made without sufficient data to predict the outcome of proposed actions or sufficient time and resources necessary to collect these data. We quantitatively reviewed studies of bird management in Canada and the United States to evaluate the relative efficacy of 4 common management interventions and to determine variables associated with their success. We compared how livestock exclusion, prescribed burning, removal of predators, and removal of cowbirds (Molothrus ater) affect bird nest success and used meta-regression to evaluate the influence of species and study-specific covariates on management outcomes. On average, all 4 management interventions increased nest success. When common species and threatened, endangered, or declining species (as defined by long-term trend data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey) were analyzed together, predator removal was the most effective management option. The difference in mean nest success between treatment and control plots in predator-removal experiments was more than twice that of either livestock exclusion or prescribed burning. However, when we considered management outcomes from only threatened, endangered, or declining species, livestock exclusions resulted in the greatest mean increase in nest success, more than twice that of the 3 other treatments. Our meta-regression results indicated that between-species variation accounted for approximately 86%, 40%, 35%, and 7% of the overall variation in the results of livestock-exclusion, prescribed-burn, predator-removal, and cowbird-removal studies, respectively. However, the covariates we tested explained significant variation only in outcomes among prescribed-burn studies. The difference in nest success between burned and unburned plots displayed a significant, positive trend in association with time since fire and was significantly larger in grasslands than in woodlands. Our results highlight the importance of comparative studies on management effects in developing efficient and effective conservation strategies.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Evidence of inbreeding depression is commonly detected from the fitness traits of animals, yet its effects on population growth rates of endangered species are rarely assessed. We examined whether inbreeding depression was affecting Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae), a subspecies listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Our objectives were to characterize genetic variation in this subspecies; test whether inbreeding depression affects bighorn sheep vital rates (adult survival and female fecundity); evaluate whether inbreeding depression may limit subspecies recovery; and examine the potential for genetic management to increase population growth rates. Genetic variation in 4 populations of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep was among the lowest reported for any wild bighorn sheep population, and our results suggest that inbreeding depression has reduced adult female fecundity. Despite this population sizes and growth rates predicted from matrix-based projection models demonstrated that inbreeding depression would not substantially inhibit the recovery of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep populations in the next approximately 8 bighorn sheep generations (48 years). Furthermore, simulations of genetic rescue within the subspecies did not suggest that such activities would appreciably increase population sizes or growth rates during the period we modeled (10 bighorn sheep generations, 60 years). Only simulations that augmented the Mono Basin population with genetic variation from other subspecies, which is not currently a management option, predicted significant increases in population size. Although we recommend that recovery activities should minimize future losses of genetic variation, genetic effects within these endangered populations-either negative (inbreeding depression) or positive (within subspecies genetic rescue)-appear unlikely to dramatically compromise or stimulate short-term conservation efforts. The distinction between detecting the effects of inbreeding depression on a component vital rate (e.g., fecundity) and the effects of inbreeding depression on population growth underscores the importance of quantifying inbreeding costs relative to population dynamics to effectively manage endangered populations.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Age ratios (e.g., calf:cow for elk and fawn:doe for deer) are used regularly to monitor ungulate populations. However, it remains unclear what inferences are appropriate from this index because multiple vital rate changes can influence the observed ratio. We used modeling based on elk (Cervus elaphus) life-history to evaluate both how age ratios are influenced by stage-specific fecundity and survival and how well age ratios track population dynamics. Although all vital rates have the potential to influence calf:adult female ratios (i.e., calf:cow ratios), calf survival explained the vast majority of variation in calf:adult female ratios due to its temporal variation compared to other vital rates. Calf:adult female ratios were positively correlated with population growth rate (Λ) and often successfully indicated population trajectories. However, calf:adult female ratios performed poorly at detecting imposed declines in calf survival, suggesting that only the most severe declines would be rapidly detected. Our analyses clarify that managers can use accurate, unbiased age ratios to monitor arguably the most important components contributing to sustainable ungulate populations, survival rate of young and Λ. However, age ratios are not useful for detecting gradual declines in survival of young or making inferences about fecundity or adult survival in ungulate populations. Therefore, age ratios coupled with independent estimates of population growth or population size are necessary to monitor ungulate population demography and dynamics closely through time.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: ABSTRACT Management of young forests is not often considered in conservation plans, but young forests provide habitat for some species of conservation concern. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), critical prey of forest carnivores including the United States federally threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), can be abundant in young montane and subalpine forests with densely spaced saplings and shrub cover. Precommercial thinning (PCT) is a silvicultural technique that reduces sapling and shrub density on young forest stands. We tested for effects of PCT on snowshoe hare abundance for 2 years after experimental treatment at 3 replicate study areas. We also tested the effectiveness of a precommercial thinning with reserves (PCT-R) prescription, where 20% of the total stand was retained in uncut quarter-hectare patches. All stands were in montane—subalpine coniferous forests of western Montana, USA, where there is a persistent population of Canada lynx. Posttreatment changes in abundance were strongly negative on stands treated with standard PCT prescriptions (100% of the stand was treated), relative to both controls and stands treated with PCT-R. Trapping, snowtrack, and winter fecal-pellet indices indicated that snowshoe hares used the quarter-ha retention patches more than thinned portions of the PCT-R-treated stands in winter. We suggest that managing forest landscapes for high snowshoe hare abundance will require adoption of silvicultural techniques like PCT-R for stands that will be thinned, in addition to conservation of structurally valuable early and late-successional forest stands.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Probably no conservation genetics issue is currently more controversial than the question of whether grey wolves (Canis lupus) in the Northern Rockies have recovered to genetically effective levels. Following the dispersal-based recolonization of Northwestern Montana from Canada, and reintroductions to Yellowstone and Central Idaho, wolves have vastly exceeded population recovery goals of 300 wolves distributed in at least 10 breeding pairs in each of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. With >1700 wolves currently, efforts to delist wolves from endangered status have become mired in legal battles over the distinct population segment (DPS) clause of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and whether subpopulations within the DPS were genetically isolated. An earlier study by vonHoldt et al. (2008) suggested Yellowstone National Park wolves were indeed isolated and was used against delisting in 2008. Since then, wolves were temporarily delisted, and a first controversial hunting season occurred in fall of 2009. Yet, concerns over the genetic recovery of wolves in the Northern Rockies remain, and upcoming District court rulings in the summer of 2010 will probably include consideration of gene flow between subpopulations. In this issue of Molecular Ecology, vonHoldt et al. (2010) conduct the largest analysis of gene flow and population structure of the Northern Rockies wolves to date. Using an impressive sampling design and novel analytic methods, vonHoldt et al. (2010) show substantial levels of gene flow between three identified subpopulations of wolves within the Northern Rockies, clarifying previous analyses and convincingly showing genetic recovery.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Summary1. To successfully manipulate populations for management and conservation purposes, managers must be able to track changes in demographic rates and determine the factors driving spatial and temporal variation in those rates. For populations of management concern, however, data deficiencies frequently limit the use of traditional statistical methods for such analyses. Long-term demographic data are often piecemeal, having small sample sizes, inconsistent methodologies, intermittent data, and information on only a subset of important parameters and covariates.2. We evaluated the effectiveness of Bayesian state-space models for meeting these data limitations in elucidating dynamics of federally endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep Ovis canadensis sierrae. We combined ground count, telemetry, and mark–resight data to: (1) estimate demographic parameters in three populations (including stage-specific abundances and vital rates); and (2) determine whether density, summer precipitation, or winter severity were driving variation in key demographic rates.3. Models combining all existing data types increased the precision and accuracy in parameter estimates and fit covariates to vital rates driving population performance. They also provided estimates for all years of interest (including years in which field data were not collected) and standardized the error structure across data types.4. Demographic rates indicated that recovery efforts should focus on increasing adult and yearling survival in the smallest bighorn sheep population. In evaluating covariates we found evidence of negative density dependence in the larger herds, but a trend of positive density dependence in the smallest herd suggesting that an augmentation may be needed to boost performance. We also found that vital rates in all populations were positively associated with summer precipitation, but that winter severity only had a negative effect on the smallest herd, the herd most strongly impacted by environmental stochasticity.5. Synthesis and applications. For populations with piecemeal data, a problem common to both endangered and harvested species, obtaining precise demographic parameter estimates is one of the greatest challenges in detecting population trends, diagnosing the causes of decline, and directing management. Data on Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep provide an example of the application of Bayesian state-space models for combining all existing data to meet these objectives and better inform important management and conservation decisions.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To develop effective management strategies for the recovery of threatened and endangered species, it is critical to identify those vital rates (survival and reproductive parameters) responsible for poor population performance and those whose increase will most efficiently change a population's trajectory. In actual application, however, approaches identifying key vital rates are often limited by inadequate demographic data, by unrealistic assumptions of asymptotic population dynamics, and of equal, infinitesimal changes in mean vital rates. We evaluated the consequences of these limitations in an analysis of vital rates most important in the dynamics of federally endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae). Based on data collected from 1980 to 2007, we estimated vital rates in three isolated populations, accounting for sampling error, variance, and covariance. We used analytical sensitivity analysis, life-stage simulation analysis, and a novel non-asymptotic simulation approach to (1) identify vital rates that should be targeted for subspecies recovery; (2) assess vital rate patterns of endangered bighorn sheep relative to other ungulate populations; (3) evaluate the performance of asymptotic vs. non-asymptotic models for meeting short-term management objectives; and (4) simulate management scenarios for boosting bighorn sheep population growth rates. We found wide spatial and temporal variation in bighorn sheep vital rates, causing rates to vary in their importance to different populations. As a result, Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep exhibited population-specific dynamics that did not follow theoretical expectations or those observed in other ungulates. Our study suggests that vital rate inferences from large, increasing, or healthy populations may not be applicable to those that are small, declining, or endangered. We also found that, while asymptotic approaches were generally applicable to bighorn sheep conservation planning; our non-asymptotic population models yielded unexpected results of importance to managers. Finally, extreme differences in the dynamics of individual bighorn sheep populations imply that effective management strategies for endangered species recovery may often need to be population-specific.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: ABSTRACT The Mahalanobis distance statistic (D2) has emerged as an effective tool to identify suitable habitat from presence data alone, but there has been no mechanism to select among potential habitat covariates. We propose that the best combination of explanatory variables for a D2 model can be identified by ranking potential models based on the proportion of the entire study area that is classified as potentially suitable habitat given that a predetermined proportion of occupied locations are correctly classified. In effect, our approach seeks to minimize errors of commission, or maximize specificity, while holding the omission error rate constant. We used this approach to identify potentially suitable habitat for the Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus), a declining species endemic to Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. We compared models built with all combinations of 11 habitat variables. A 7-variable model identified 21,143 ha within the park as potentially suitable for marmots, correctly classifying 80% of occupied locations. Additional refinements to the 7-variable model (e.g., eliminating small patches) further reduced the predicted area to 18,579 ha with little reduction in predictive power. Although we sought a model that would allow field workers to find 80% of Olympic marmot locations, in fact, <3% of 376 occupied locations and <9% of abandoned locations were >100 m from habitat predicted by the final model, suggesting that >90% of occupied marmot habitat could be found by observant workers surveying predicted habitat. The model comparison procedure allowed us to identify the suite of covariates that maximized specificity of our model and, thus, limited the amount of less favorable habitat included in the final prediction area. We expect that by maximizing specificity of models built from presence-only data, our model comparison procedure will be useful to conservation practitioners planning reintroductions, searching for rare species, or identifying habitat for protection.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: A full understanding of population dynamics of wide-ranging animals should account for the effects that movement and habitat use have on individual contributions to population growth or decline. Quantifying the per-capita, habitat-specific contribution to population growth can clarify the value of different patch types, and help to differentiate population sources from population sinks. Snowshoe hares, Lepus americanus, routinely use various habitat types in the landscapes they inhabit in the contiguous US, where managing forests for high snowshoe hare density is a priority for conservation of Canada lynx, Lynx canadensis. We estimated density and demographic rates via mark–recapture live trapping and radio-telemetry within four forest stand structure (FSS) types at three study areas within heterogeneous managed forests in western Montana. We found support for known fate survival models with time-varying individual covariates representing the proportion of locations in each of the FSS types, with survival rates decreasing as use of open young and open mature FSS types increased. The per-capita contribution to overall population growth increased with use of the dense mature or dense young FSS types and decreased with use of the open young or open mature FSS types, and relatively high levels of immigration appear to be necessary to sustain hares in the open FSS types. Our results support a conceptual model for snowshoe hares in the southern range in which sink habitats (open areas) prevent the buildup of high hare densities. More broadly, we use this system to develop a novel approach to quantify demographic sources and sinks for animals making routine movements through complex fragmented landscapes.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) undergo remarkable cycles and are the primary prey base of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), a carnivore recently listed as threatened in the contiguous United States. Efforts to evaluate hare densities using pellets have traditionally been based on regression equations developed in the Yukon, Canada. In western Montana, we evaluated whether or not local regression equations performed better than the most recent Yukon equation and assessed whether there was concordance between pellet-based predictions and mark–recapture density estimates of hares. We developed local Montana regression equations based on 224 data points consisting of mark-recapture estimates and pellet counts, derived from 38 sites in 2 different areas sampled for 1 to 5 years using 2 different pellet plot shapes. We evaluated concordance between estimated density and predicted density based on pellet counts coupled with regression equations at 436 site-area-season combinations different from those used to develop the regression equations. At densities below 0.3 hares/ha, predicted density based on pellets tended to be greater than for mark–recapture; the difference was usually <1 hare per ha on an absolute scale, but at low densities this translated to proportional differences of 1,000% or greater. At densities above 0.7 hares/ha, pellet regressions tended to predict lower density than mark–recapture. Because local regression equations did not outperform the Yukon equation, we see little merit in further development of local regression equations unless a study is to be conducted in a formal double-sampling framework. We recommend that widespread pellet sampling be used to identify areas with very low hare densities; subsequent surveys using mark–recapture methodology can then focus on higher density areas where density inferences are more reliable.
Journal of Wildlife Management 09/2009; · 1.64 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We report a sighting, supported by DNA evidence from a scat, of a cougar (Puma concolor) in southeastern Louisiana. The 16S-rRNA genotype obtained from mtDNA is one that is common throughout North America, making it difficult to determine the origin of the individual. Based on DNA and hair scale analysis, the scat contained the partially digested remains of a dog (Canis familiaris) and an eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), indicating that the individual was successfully foraging on locally occurring prey.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Olympic marmots (Marmota olympus) are reported to skip at least one year between reproductive efforts. We observed several female marmots weaning infants in consecutive years. There was no evidence that reproductive skipping was more common than annual reproduction. High spring food availability resulting from climate change may allow females to wean consecutive litters regularly.
American Midland Naturalist 01/2009; · 0.67 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Index methods can be valuable for monitoring forest-dwelling vertebrates over broad spatial or temporal scales. Fecal pellet counts are often used as an index of density or habitat use of snowshoe hares, Lepus americanus, but previous surveys have used different plot types and sample sizes, leading to problems comparing results from different studies and questions about the inferential power of each study. In this paper, we use field data and simulations to examine how the precision, bias, and efficiency of four commonly used plot types vary with plot type, pellet density, and sample size. Although no one plot type was consistently superior, we recommend thin rectangles (5.08 cm × 305 cm (2 in. × 10 ft), 0.155 m2) or 1 m2 circles over 0.155 m2 circles or 10 cm × 10 m (1 m2) rectangles. We recommend that researchers explicitly address the power of their survey design to detect different pellet densities, because much larger sample sizes are needed at low pellet densities than at high pellet densities to obtain similar precision. Small sample sizes are also much more likely to be biased, which could lead to incorrect inferences about management of snowshoe hare populations. Both uncleared and cleared plots performed well and will have value in different research contexts.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In the mid-1990s, anecdotal reports of Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus) disappearances from historically occupied locations suggested that the species might be declining. Concern was heightened by the precipitous decline of the Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis), coupled with reports that climate change was affecting other high-elevation species. However, it was unclear whether the Olympic marmot was declining or undergoing natural extinctions and recolonizations; distinguishing between normal metapopulation processes and population declines in naturally fragmented species can be difficult. From 2002–2006, we used multiple approaches to evaluate the population status of the Olympic marmot. We surveyed sites for which there were records indicating regular occupancy in the later half of the 20th century and we conducted range-wide surveys of open high-elevation habitat to establish current and recent distribution. We used these targeted and general habitat surveys to identify locations and regions that have undergone extinctions or colonizations in the past 1–4 decades. Simultaneously, we conducted detailed demographic studies, using marked and radio-tagged marmots, to estimate the observed and projected current population growth rate at nine locations. The habitat surveys indicate that local extinctions have been wide-spread, while no recolonizations were detected. Abundance at most intensive study sites declined from 2002–2006 and the demographic data indicate that these local declines are ongoing. Adult female survival in particular is considerably lower than it was historically. The spatial pattern of the extinctions is inconsistent with observed metapopulation dynamics in other marmot species and, together with very low observed dispersal rates, indicates that population is not at equilibrium.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: If changes in animal behavior resulting from direct human disturbance negatively affect the persistence of a given species or population, then these behavioral changes must necessarily lead to reduced demographic performance. We tested for the effects of human disturbance on Olympic marmots (Marmota olympus), a large ground-dwelling squirrel that has disappeared from several areas where recreation levels are high. We assessed the degree to which antipredator and foraging behavior and demographic rates (survival and reproduction) differed between sites with high recreation levels (high use) and those with little or no recreation (low use). Compared with the marmots at low-use sites, marmots at high-use sites displayed significantly reduced responses to human approach, which could be construed as successful accommodation of disturbance or as a decrease in predator awareness. The marmots at high-use sites also looked up more often while foraging, which suggests an increased wariness. Marmots at both types of sites had comparable reproductive and survival rates and were in similar body condition. Until now, the supposition that marmots can adjust their behavior to avoid negative demographic consequences when confronted with heavy tourism has been based on potentially ambiguous behavioral data. Our results support this hypothesis in the case of Olympic marmots and demonstrate the importance of considering demographic data when evaluating the impacts of recreation on animal populations.