Relationship of greater sage-grouse to natural and assisted recovery of key vegetation types following wildfire

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We measured the presence of greater sage-grouse (GRSG) scat and modeled the probability of GRSG presence (PrGRSG-scat) in relation to variation in plot-level and landscape-level predictors, and land treatments, in an intensive, repeat sampling from 2017 to 2020 of 113,000 ha area burned in 2015 in the Soda Megafire (Oregon and Idaho, U.S.A.). GRSG scat was present in less than 200 of more than 8,000 observations, as would be expected for a philopatric species (i.e. high fidelity to home site) returning to degraded habitat. PrGRSG-scat was positively associated with sagebrush presence at the plot level and was positively related to elevation, lower-angle slopes, and proximity to sagebrush seedling outplant islands. The statistical significance of relationships of PrGRSG-scat to restoration treatments was marginal at best, with the largest effect being a positive response of PrGRSG-scat to pre-emergent herbicide sprayed to reduce exotic annual grasses. More time may be required for restored sagebrush steppe to meet GRSG needs or for GRSG to “adopt” the restored vegetation. Moreover, whereas scat is a convenient and non-invasive method to monitor GRSG, its post-fire scarcity weakens the strength of statistical inference on GRSG recovery patterns and response to restoration.

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