• Both habitat change and local lek structure influence patterns of spatial loss and recovery in a black grouse population

      Geary, Matthew; Fielding, Alan H.; Marsden, Stuart J.; University of Chester; Manchester Metropolitan University (Springer, 2015-05-23)
      Land use change is a major driver of declines in wildlife populations. Where human economic or recreational interests and wildlife share landscapes this problem is exacerbated. Changes in UK black grouse Tetrao tetrix populations are thought to have been strongly influenced by upland land use change. In a long-studied population within Perthshire, lek persistence is positively correlated with lek size, and remaining leks clustered most strongly within the landscape when the population is lowest, suggesting that there may be a demographic and/or spatial context to the reaction of the population to habitat changes. Hierarchical cluster analysis of lek locations revealed that patterns of lek occupancy when the population was declining were different to those during the later recovery period. Response curves from lek-habitat models developed using MaxEnt for periods with a declining population, low population, and recovering population were consistent across years for most habitat measures. We found evidence linking lek persistence with habitat quality changes and more leks which appeared between 1994 and 2008 were in improving habitat than those which disappeared during the same period. Generalised additive models (GAMs) identified changes in woodland and starting lek size as being important indicators of lek survival between declining and low/recovery periods. There may also have been a role for local densities in explaining recovery since the population low point. Persistence of black grouse leks was influenced by habitat, but changes in this alone did not fully account for black grouse declines. Even when surrounded by good quality habitat, leks can be susceptible to extirpation due to isolation.