February 13, 2018 by Shawna Richter-Ryerson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
A study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers has found that predicted increased temperatures across the Great Plains are likely to influence the survival of the sharp-tailed grouse, a native game bird species, by reducing nesting space.
"Our study carried out in the Sandhills rangeland of western Nebraska provides a baseline for understanding sharp-tailed grouse thermal ecology," said E.J. Raynor, postdoctoral research associate in agronomy and horticulture at Nebraska and lead author of the study. "Our findings suggest sharp-tailed grouse selected nest sites that reduced their exposure to high temperatures during the hottest part of the day."
Those nests experienced 88-degree or higher temperatures for at least an hour less than nearby available sites in the same pasture, Raynor said, noting that 88 degrees is the threshold where sharp-tailed grouse experience heat stress and pant to cool their bodies.
Past research found the birds preferred small shrubs and yucca plants as nesting locations. The study showed that availability of these fine-scale vegetative habitats within grasslands is important because they regulate nest temperature more than other vegetation in the study area.
For the study, Raynor and colleagues Larkin Powell, professor of ecology, and Walt Schacht, professor of agronomy, measured temperatures of grouse nests and nearby available spaces conducive for nesting in the Valentine area of the Nebraska Sandhills. They also documented vegetation characteristics of the sites. Temperature measurements were then compared to future projections of air temperature under different emission scenarios for the year 2080.