Range-wide greater sage-grouse monitoring framework: Population boundaries, trends, and a warning system

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Incorporating spatial and temporal scales into greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) population monitoring strategies is challenging and rarely implemented. Sage-grouse populations experience fluctuations in abundance that lead to temporal oscillations, making trend estimation difficult. Accounting for stochasticity is critical to reliably estimate population trends and investigate variation related to deterministic factors on the landscape, which are amenable to management action. Here, we describe a novel, range-wide hierarchical monitoring framework for sage-grouse centered on four objectives: (1) create a standardized database of lek counts, (2) develop spatial population structures by clustering leks, (3) estimate spatial trends at different temporal extents based on abundance nadirs (troughs), and (4) develop a targeted annual warning system to help inform management decisions. Using automated and repeatable methods (software), we compiled a lek database (as of 2019) that contained 262,744 counts and 8,421 unique lek locations from disparate state data. The hierarchical population units (clusters) included 13 nested levels, identifying biologically relevant units and population structure that minimized inter-cluster sage-grouse movements. With these products, we identified spatiotemporal variation in trends in population abundance using Bayesian state-space models. We estimated 37.0, 65.2, and 80.7-percent declines in abundance range-wide during short (17 years), medium (33 years), and long (53 years) temporal scales, respectively. However, some areas exhibited evidence of increasing trends in abundance in recent decades. Models predicted 12.3, 19.2, and 29.6 percent of populations (defined as clusters of neighboring leks) consisted of over 50-percent probability of extirpation at 19, 38, and 56-year projections from 2019, respectively, based on averaged annual rate of change in apparent abundance across two, four, and six oscillations (average period of oscillation is 9.4 years). At the lek level, models predicted 45.7, 60.1, and 78.0 percent of leks with over 50-percent extirpation probabilities over the same time periods, respectively, mostly located on the periphery of the species’ range. The targeted annual warning system automates annual identification of local populations exhibiting asynchronous decline relative to regional population patterns using simulated management actions and an optimization algorithm for evaluating range-wide stabilization of population abundance. In 2019, approximately 3.2 percent of leks and 2.0 percent of populations were identified by the targeted annual warning system for management intervention range-wide.

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