You are here

Sage-grouse genetics

Date: September 18, 2018

How new research can help protect greater sage-grouse mating areas


Background

Unfortunately, greater sage-grouse are not as easy to find as they used to be. The birds’ population, once estimated at 16 million, is now believed to be less than one million. The population decline is related to their habitat, much of which has been paved over, converted to croplands, degraded by non-native grasses and conifer encroachment, and fragmented by roads and other barriers. Every year, groups of the birds congregate at mating areas called “leks” — areas that are used every year unless they are disrupted. Because of the location-specific nature of their mating process, greater sage-grouse are particularly vulnerable to habitat disruption.

Male and female greater sage-grouse converge on sagebrush mating areas every year (Photo by Rick McEwan, Sage Grouse Initiative).
Male and female greater sage-grouse converge on sagebrush mating areas every year (Photo by Rick McEwan, Sage Grouse Initiative).
Recently published work from scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) may help protect the birds’ habitat and their ability to reproduce. The research article, entitled “The genetic network of greater sage-grouse: range-wide identification of keystone hubs of connectivity,” describes how genetic analysis of DNA from greater sage-grouse feather quills can identify and help to map areas of importance in maintaining genetic connectivity. This research can help land managers understand how specific lek locations serve larger geographic areas and to understand the role of genetic connectivity in the birds’ mating process.

This research can help land managers evaluate proposed development or management actions in light of their impact on leks that are important for genetic connectivity — and how restoration or an easement could protect connectivity or reconnect the birds with their leks.

Key Findings

  • Recently published research can help land managers to identify important hubs and pathways of genetic connectivity for greater sage-grouse.
  • This knowledge can be used in evaluating proposed development or management actions in terms of how they could disrupt, protect or restore critical places of conservation for greater sage-grouse habitat.
  • The genetic evaluation technique, combined with mapping technology, can be used to evaluate land management decisions in terms of their effect on more than 350 species that live in North American sagebrush habitat.

Featured Publications

Row, Jeffrey R. ; Doherty, Kevin E. ; Cross, Todd B. ; Schwartz, Michael K. ; Oyler-McCance, Sara ; Naugle, Dave E. ; Knick, Steven T. ; Fedy, Bradley C. , 2018
Cross, Todd B. ; Schwartz, Michael K. ; Naugle, David E. ; Fedy, Brad C. ; Row, Jeffrey R. ; Oyler-McCance, Sara J. , 2018
Cross, Todd B. ; Naugle, David E. ; Carlson, John C. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2017


Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Michael K. Schwartz, USDA Forest Service, National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, Montana
External Partners: 
David E. Naugle, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana;
Brad C. Fedy, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Canada;
Jeffrey R. Row, School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability, University of Waterloo, Canada;
Sara J. Oyler-McCance, U.S. Geological Survey;
John C. Carlson, Bureau of Land Management, Montana State Office;
Kevin E. Doherty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
Steven T. Knick, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Research Location: 
Western United States