Saving sage-grouse by relocation

August 26, 2019

Moving can be tough, but eventually most of us acclimate to new surroundings.

That's true for humans, and research from Washington State University shows it's the same for sage-grouse too.

A team of scientists successfully moved sage-grouse, a threatened bird species in Washington state, from one area of their range to another to increase their numbers and diversify their gene pool. A WSU study on the project in The Journal of Wildlife Management shows relocating the birds is a viable and productive step towards helping their population recover in the state.

"In the first year after moving sage-grouse in, they tended to move around a lot and didn't reproduce as effectively as the native population," said Kyle Ebenhoch, a researcher now working at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "It took them about a year to settle in and get used to their new surroundings."

Ebenhoch, a WSU graduate student during this project, wrote the paper with WSU School of the Environment professors Daniel Thornton, Lisa Shipley, and Jeffrey Manning. Kevin White, a contract wildlife biologist with the Yakima Training Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was also a member of the research team. The training center hosts a population of sage-grouse where the relocation work was done.

An adjustment period

Ebenhoch wanted to investigate how newly introduced sage-grouse would survive and reproduce in order to determine if relocating birds to the area could be a workable way of keeping the species from further decline in Washington.

It turns out, the birds can adjust, though the training center population continued to decline.

"The birds did adjust to their new surroundings, but it didn't stabilize the population," Ebenhoch said. "This can be one tool in our toolbox for helping, but we'll need more research to find other tools as well."

As for how the birds adjust, it's not too far off from a person or family moving to a new state.

"It reminded me of me when I go somewhere new," Ebenhoch said. "When I move to a different area, I know where my home and work are. Over time, I start to find a grocery store, or a barber. My knowledge and home range expand as I get used to the new place. It's basically the same for these birds."

Studying the birds

The relocated birds, brought in from populations in Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada from 2004-2006 and 2014-2016, were fixed with radio-transmitting collars so Ebenhoch and his colleagues could track their movements and see if they survived in their new area.

The researchers also collared several native sage-grouse each year, to serve as a baseline on how much those birds move around and reproduce. That comparison produced conclusions about the one-year adjustment period.

The collars also had a "mortality signal" built in, so researchers would be notified if a bird perished while wearing a collar. This allowed the team to monitor the mortality rate of the native and transplanted birds.

A necessity

Due to several factors, mostly human-caused like agriculture habitat conversion or wildfire, populations of sage-grouse in Washington have shrunk and become fragmented. There are four central and eastern Washington areas where the birds live, but they can't intermix because these areas are too far away from each other. That leads to inbreeding and less genetic diversity at each area, potentially increasing diseases and abnormalities, which are important factors that biologists monitor when conserving rare or declining wildlife.

Ebenhoch hopes the paper, which was his thesis for his Master's degree from WSU, will help policy makers and other wildlife biologists see that relocation can work. Though the paper is specific to Washington sage-grouse, some of the techniques may be suitable for sage-grouse conservation in other states, or even other species.

"This bird is right on the brink of being listed as threatened at the federal level," Ebenhoch said. "We showed that relocation, while disruptive in the short term, can work once the birds acclimate to their new surroundings."
-end-


Washington State University

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.