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Greater Prairie-chicken research leads to great award

A KansasStateUniversity professor is part of a group of researchers receiving a national award for the best journal article from The Wildlife Society for research on Greater Prairie-chicken population declines that may change conservation practices.

Brett Sandercock, KansasStateUniversity professor of wildlife ecology, and his colleagues, wrote the award-winning article “Demography of Greater Prairie-chickens: regional variation in vital rates, sensitivity values, and population dynamics.” Sandercock’s co-authors include two KansasStateUniversity alumni, Lance McNew, assistant professor at MontanaStateUniversity, and Andrew Gregory, assistant professor at Bowling GreenStateUniversity; and Samantha Wisely, associate professor at the University of Florida.

The article, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, investigates demographic mechanisms driving the population declines of Greater Prairie-chickens at three sites in Kansas: one site in the Smoky Hills and two sites in the Flint Hills.

“A lot of wildlife agencies monitor prairie-chickens by counting birds at leks, so they know population trends but they don’t know what is driving the numbers,” Sandercock said. “This research — one of the most comprehensive analyses of any grouse species — identifies that reproductive failure is driving the population declines.”

The researchers did a complete demographic analysis, which included estimates of clutch size, nest survival, brood survival, juvenile survival and female survival, across two ecoregions and multiple years. According to Sandercock, prairie-chickens have poor reproduction in managed grasslands, with an average productivity of one juvenile for every seven nesting females.

Their results suggest that the rate of population decline was sensitive to the patterns of landscape fragmentation and land use, and that the Greater Prairie-chicken population would benefit from immigration and better productivity. The research also indicated that nest and brood survival were low because of land management practices and changes in predator numbers.

The article was written as part of McNew’s dissertation while he was a graduate student in the Division of Biologyat KansasStateUniversity. The award was presented at the society’s annual conference Oct. 25-30 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.