Michael A. Patten, a professor in the Oklahoma Biological Survey, University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences, and his co-authors are the 2016 recipients of The Wildlife Society Publications Award for Outstanding Article, "Factors affecting female space use in ten populations of prairie chickens." The Award was presented to Patten on Monday, Oct. 17, during the 23rd Annual Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.
"We hope our findings convince agencies entrusted with the conservation of these declining species to manage habitat in a way to ensure long-term stability of their leks (communal mating areas)," Patten said.
Patten and his co-authors examined which factors affect why female grouse choose the habitat they choose. The collaborative study used data on the Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken from ten populations in five states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. Both the Greater and Lesser Prairie Chicken are species of conservation concern with the Lesser Prairie Chicken protected recently under the Endangered Species Act.
Both species are among the small percentage of birds that use a lek mating system--the males gather in a communal display area to attract females. After mating with a male at a lek, the female flies off to build a nest, lay and hatch the eggs and guide the young until they are old enough to fend for themselves. Males contribute sperm but nothing else to future generations.
A chief finding of the study was that among the variables considered, distance to an active lek was the best predictor of female space use. In other words, distance to roads or power lines or habitat edges did not influence how a female used space nearly as much as proximity to the nearest communal display ground. A female's home range is driven chiefly by her reproductive needs.
Study results show that cost-effective and relatively straight-forward lek surveys reveal as much about the females as they do about the males creating a picture of the whole population. The research article was published in the scientific journal Ecosphere at http://www.