Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Beth Ross, Committee Chair

Committee Member

David Haukos

Committee Member

Robert Baldwin

Abstract

The Great Plains region of North America is an important ecosystem supporting many plant and animal species, but one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Loss and degradation of grasslands in the Great Plains region has resulted in major declines in abundance of grassland bird species. To ensure future viability of grassland bird populations, it is crucial to evaluate specific effects of environmental factors across species to determine drivers of population decline and develop effective conservation strategies. In this study, I took a multi-species approach to understanding effects of environmental factors on four species of upland game birds in Kansas. I quantified effects of land cover and weather changes, as well as conservation practice implementation on lesser and greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus and T. cupido, respectively), northern bobwhites (Colinus virginianus), and ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus). I found evidence of nonlinear, threshold effects of land cover change on abundance of all four focal species, though specific effects differed by species and spatial scale. I then focused on lesser prairie-chicken conservation and used a decision support tool to select candidate areas to prioritize conservation efforts and evaluate tradeoffs between conservation and economic objectives in different conservation scenarios. I found difference in conservation approach led to different optimal solutions, though some areas were important regardless of conservation approach. It is important to study drivers of species population decline, and apply ecological findings of such studies to improve conservation management. In this study, I both examined effects of land cover and weather on abundance of multiple species of upland game birds, and applied ecological knowledge to systematic conservation planning for an upland game bird species of conservation concern. My results provide valuable context to managers for optimizing conservation management for grassland birds in Kansas.

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