Exploring Old Data with New Tricks: Long-Term Monitoring Indicates Spatial and Temporal Changes in Populations of Sympatric Prairie Grouse in the Nebraska Sandhills

Danielle J. Berger, Jeffrey J. Lusk, Larkin A. Powell, John P. Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

The contiguous grasslands of the Sandhills region in Nebraska, USA, provide habitat for two sympatric, grassland-obligate species of grouse, the greater prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) and the plains sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus jamesi). Collectively referred to as prairie grouse, these birds are monitored and managed jointly by wildlife practitioners who face the novel challenge of conserving historically allopatric species in shared range. We reconstructed region-wide and route-specific prairie grouse population trends in the Sandhills, using a 63-year timeseries of breeding ground counts aggregated from old reports and paper archives. Our objective was to repurpose historical data collected for harvest management to address questions pertinent to the conservation of prairie grouse, species whose populations have declined precipitously throughout their respective ranges. Because we cannot change the sampling protocol of historical data to answer new questions, we applied 3 different methods of data analysis—traditional regional mean counts used to adjust harvest regulations, spatially implicit, site-specific counts, and spatially explicit trends. Prairie-chicken populations have increased since the 1950s, whereas sharp-tailed grouse populations have remained stable or slightly declined. However, each species exhibited unique shifts in abundance and distribution over time, and regional indices masked important aspects of population change. Our findings indicate that legacy data have the capacity to tell new stories apart from the questions they were collected to answer. By integrating concepts from landscape ecology—a discipline that emerged decades after the collection of our count data began—we demonstrate the potential of historical data to address questions of modern-day conservation concern, using prairie grouse as a case study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114
JournalDiversity
Volume15
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Great Plains
  • Tympanuchus cupido
  • Tympanuchus phasianellus
  • abundance
  • demography
  • distribution
  • game bird
  • space use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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