Evaluating spatially explicit viability of a declining ruffed grouse population

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Species associated with early successional habitats have experienced dramatic declines in the eastern United States as a result of land use changes and human disruption of natural disturbance regimes. Consequently, active management is required to create early successional habitat and promote plant and animal communities that depend on periodic forest disturbance. Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) depend on recently disturbed forest habitat, and have experienced dramatic declines over the last half-century. Although ruffed grouse are extensively studied, little effort has been made to link population dynamics with habitat management at landscape scales. We used stochastic, spatially explicit population models that combined landscape conditions derived from a Geographic Information System with demographic data, and applied the model to a declining ruffed grouse population in Rhode Island, USA. We identified vital rates that influence ruffed grouse population dynamics using baseline models constructed with current demographic rates and landscape conditions, and assessed the effect of landscape-scale forest management alternatives on population persistence by running multiple management simulations. Baseline models typically predicted population decline, and we concluded that vital rates (survival and recruitment) had a greater influence on population persistence than did dispersal capability, carrying capacity, or initial population size. Management simulations predicted greater population persistence under a scenario where high-quality habitat was provided in fewer large blocks as opposed to many small blocks, and the rate at which we allowed ruffed grouse to colonize newly created habitat had a substantial impact on management success. Populations of ruffed grouse in the eastern United States are likely to continue to decline given current disturbance regimes, and our work provides a link between ruffed grouse demography and landscape-scale habitat conditions to support management decisions. Copyright © 2011 The Wildlife Society.

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Journal of Wildlife Management