Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wyoming
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Carlisle, J. D., and A. D. Chalfoun. 2020. The abundance of Greater Sage-Grouse as a proxy for the abundance of sagebrush-associated songbirds in Wyoming, USA. Avian Conservation and Ecology. 15(2):16.


Surrogate-species concepts are prevalent in animal conservation. Such strategies advocate for conservation by proxy, wherein one species is used to represent other taxa to obtain a conservation objective. The efficacy of such approaches has been rarely assessed empirically, but is predicated on concordance between the surrogate and sympatric taxa in distribution, abundance, and ecological requirements. Our objective was to identify whether the abundance of a high-profile umbrella species (Greater Sage-Grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, hereafter sage-grouse) was associated with the abundance of six other members of the avian community for which it is presumed to be a surrogate, including three sagebrush-obligate and three sagebrush-associated songbird species. We predicted that sage-grouse abundance would align most closely with the breeding abundance of other sagebrush-obligate birds. We used two different indices of sage-grouse abundance for comparisons: field-collected counts of fecal pellets (primarily indexing abundance in the nonbreeding season) and a spatially explicit index of breeding population size. Neither index of sage-grouse abundance was consistently predictive of co-occurring songbird abundance, with one species more abundant (Horned Lark [Eremophila alpestris]) and one species less abundant (Vesper Sparrow [Pooecetes gramineus]) where sage-grouse pellet counts were higher, and no relationship evident between songbird abundance and the spatially explicit sage-grouse population index. Ours is one of few assessments of the efficacy of sage-grouse as a surrogate species to consider abundance, and not habitat overlap alone. We suggest that the utility of sage-grouse as a surrogate species likely varies across spatial scales. Within the scale examined here (10–15 ha sites), however, indices of sage-grouse abundance were unreliable proxies for the abundance of six declining songbird species.