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PLoS One. 2013 Aug 5;8(8):e71256. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071256. Print 2013.

Combined effects of energy development and disease on greater sage-grouse.

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Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, United States of America.


Species of conservation concern are increasingly threatened by multiple, anthropogenic stressors which are outside their evolutionary experience. Greater sage-grouse are highly susceptible to the impacts of two such stressors: oil and gas (energy) development and West Nile virus (WNv). However, the combined effects of these stressors and their potential interactions have not been quantified. We used lek (breeding ground) counts across a landscape encompassing extensive local and regional variation in the intensity of energy development to quantify the effects of energy development on lek counts, in years with widespread WNv outbreaks and in years without widespread outbreaks. We then predicted the effects of well density and WNv outbreak years on sage-grouse in northeast Wyoming. Absent an outbreak year, drilling an undeveloped landscape to a high permitting level (3.1 wells/km²) resulted in a 61% reduction in the total number of males counted in northeast Wyoming (total count). This was similar in magnitude to the 55% total count reduction that resulted from an outbreak year alone. However, energy-associated reductions in the total count resulted from a decrease in the mean count at active leks, whereas outbreak-associated reductions resulted from a near doubling of the lek inactivity rate (proportion of leks with a last count = 0). Lek inactivity quadrupled when 3.1 wells/km² was combined with an outbreak year, compared to no energy development and no outbreak. Conservation measures should maintain sagebrush landscapes large and intact enough so that leks are not chronically reduced in size due to energy development, and therefore vulnerable to becoming inactive due to additional stressors.

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