Boal, C.W. 2016. Predation and Lesser Prairie-Chickens. Pp. 145-158 in D.A. Haukos and C.W. Boal (editors), Ecology and conservation of Lesser Prairie-Chickens. Studies in Avian Biology (no. 48), CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
ABSTRACT Lesser Prairie-Chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) are subject to predation from a suite of opportunistic predators. These predation risks are associated with local environmental and landscape conditions, vegetation community, and predator community, all of which are influenced by human actions. Few studies have specifically assessed the relationships between Lesser Prairie-Chickens and their predators. I reviewed the body of knowledge on predation as it relates to seasonality and the different life stages of Lesser Prairie-Chickens. Although there are few quantitative data, some general patterns emerge. Predation is generally highest during the breeding season compared to the nonbreeding season. There also appears to be seasonality associated with different predation pressures, with mammalian and avian predation similar during the breeding season, whereas raptors pose a greater threat during the nonbreeding season. In a general sense, it can be surmised that full grown and young Lesser Prairie-Chickens may experience relatively constant year-round risk and risk to nests from mammals, seasonal risk to nests and young birds from snakes, seasonally variable risks to adults and juveniles from raptors, and nest risk by ravens (Corvus spp.). A confounding aspect of studying predation of Lesser Prairie-Chickens is that accurate identification of the predator often is not possible; rather predators are lumped into taxonomic categories without clarity as to which species are having the impact. Predator management has not been attempted or advocated as a conservation tool for the Lesser Prairie-Chickens; rather, predator management is more frequently considered in context of managing for habitat quantity and quality. If predation does pose population level influences, it is likely through impacts on nest and brood survival, two of the most critical population parameters for the species. It remains unknown whether predation has a population level effect on Lesser Prairie-Chickens, or what the frequency and impact of any one predator species may be. Finally, increased predation may or may not be the proximate result of human actions. This is especially relevant in context of landcover changes due to anthropocentric activities (e.g., increased livestock grazing) or environmental conditions (e.g., drought). Until focused studies are conducted on these issues, a more complete understanding of the community–habitat influences on predator–prey relationships of Lesser Prairie-Chickens, and identification of valid management strategies (if warranted), will remain elusive.