Temporal mismatch in space use by a sagebrush obligate species after large-scale wildfire

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We modeled seasonal habitat use by female greater sage-grouse in the Trout Creek Mountains of Oregon and Nevada, USA, to identify landscape characteristics that influenced sage-grouse habitat selection and to create predictive surfaces of seasonal use 1 and 7 years postfire. We developed three resource selection function models using GPS location data from 2013 to 2019 for three biologically distinct seasons (breeding, n = 149 individuals: 8 March–12 June; summer, n = 140 individuals: 13 June–20 October; and winter, n = 94 individuals: 21 October–7 March). For all seasons, by the fourth or fifth year postfire, sage-grouse selected for unburned patches more than all other burn severity patches and the use of unburned areas in comparison with burned areas increased through time. During the breeding season, sage-grouse selected for low-sagebrush -dominated ecosystems and areas with low biomass (normalized difference vegetation index). During summer, sage-grouse selected for areas with higher annual and perennial grasses and forb cover, and areas that had higher biomass. During winter, sage-grouse selected for areas of intact sagebrush on less rugged terrain. For the winter and breeding season, there was a positive linear relationship between annual grasses and forb cover through time. Seven years postfire (2019), the area predicted to have a high probability of use in each seasonal range decreased (breeding: 16.4%; summer: 12.2%; and winter: 4.2%), while the area predicted to have low or low-medium probability of use increased (breeding: 14.5%; summer: 22.5%; and winter: 22.8%) when compared to the first year following the wildfire (2013). Our results demonstrated a 4- to 5-year time lag before female sage-grouse adapted to a disturbed landscape began avoiding burned areas more than intact, unburned habitats. This mismatch in ecological response may imply declines in habitat availability for sage-grouse and may destabilize population vital rates. Spatially explicit models can aid in identifying priority areas for restoration efforts and conservation actions to mitigate the impacts of future disturbances.

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