Lautenbach, J.D., D.A. Haukos, J.M. Lautenbach, and C.A. Hagen. 2021. Ecological disturbance through patch-burn grazing drives lesser prairie-chicken space use. Journal of Wildlife Management 85:1699–1710; 2021; DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.22118
Across portions of the western Great Plains, fire has been removed from grassland ecosystems, decreasing vegetation heterogeneity and allowing woody encroachment. This has implications for many grassland species that require diverse vegetation patches and structure throughout their life or patches that have limited availability in the absence of fire. The lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) is a declining species of prairie-grouse that require heterogeneous grasslands throughout their life-history and fire has been removed from much of their range. Patch-burn grazing is a management strategy that introduces fire to a system and increases grassland heterogeneity. We sought to understand the effects of patch-burn grazing on lesser prairie-chicken space-use, habitat, and vegetation selection during a 4-year field study from 2014–2017. We found that female lesser prairie-chickens selected 1- and 2-year post fire patches during the lekking season, >3-year post-fire patches during the nesting season, and year-of-fire and 1-year post-fire patches during post-nesting and nonbreeding seasons. Vegetation selection was similar to available vegetation in patches that were selected during the nesting and nonbreeding season. Vegetation selection during the lekking and post-nesting seasons was not similar to available vegetation in selected patches, suggesting that lesser prairie-chickens are cuing in on other factors during this season. Because lesser prairie-chickens selected all available patches during their life-history, patch-burn grazing may be a viable management tool to maintain heterogeneity on the landscape and help control woody encroachment in the eastern portion of their range.