2015-06-19. Researchers push to prevent a last dance for the lesser prairie chicken.

posted Jun 21, 2015, 12:18 PM by Alan Gould
By Marianne Lavelle, Science. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 6 and Climate Change chapter 8. Excerpt: ...as many as 2 million lesser prairie chickens once lent crimson to the often beige landscape of the midwestern and southwestern United States. But just some 22,000 birds remain today, occupying about 16% of the species' historic range. The birds are found in five states: Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas—which holds an estimated 60% to 70% of the remaining population. The birds “are facing a tremendous number of threats,” says retired biologist Randy Rodgers, an expert on “lessers” who spent 37 years with the Kansas wildlife department. Lessers can tolerate some human disturbance, he says... “But as with many things,” Rodgers says, “a little is good. A lot is not.” Beginning in the 1950s, modern center-pivot irrigation farming became a major threat, carving crop circles into some of the lesser's favored vegetation: sand sagebrush and shrublike sand shinnery oak. Oil and natural gas wells further fragmented the bird's range, as have roads, power lines, wind farms, and housing developments. ...It took a climate shift, however, to push the lesser prairie chicken to the brink of disaster. In 2012 and 2013, a punishing drought hit the heart of its territory. Biologists estimate the population plummeted by half, to about 18,000 birds, before rebounding by about 20% in 2014. The crash was a major reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decided in March 2014 to formally list the bird as threatened.  ...a much bigger looming battle over the fate of another rangeland bird: the greater sage grouse (see "Feature: Sage grouse war tests limits of partnership in West").... http://news.sciencemag.org/plants-animals/2015/06/feature-researchers-push-prevent-last-dance-lesser-prairie-chicken