Science to Solutions: Mesquite Encroachment Impacts Lesser Prairie-Chickens

While scientists have long suspected that honey mesquite encroachment is a significant problem for lesser prairie-chickens in the southern portion of their range, a new study is the first to quantify its impact.

A new “Science to Solutions” report from the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Initiative (LPCI) – a partnership led by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – summarizes the study’s findings and management implications.

The study shows that lesser prairie-chickens strongly prefer sites with less than 1% mesquite canopy cover and rarely use habitat where cover exceeds 15%. This intense aversion is likely due to the fact that mesquite provides hiding and perching cover for predators.

Read the Science to Solutions report, “Mesquite Removal Restores Habitat for Lesser Prairie-Chickens.”

LPCI’s mesquite report is part of the NRCS Science to Solutions series, which distills the findings of emerging scientific research and identifies ways this new knowledge can help fine-tune habitat range management. It contributes to a growing body of science demonstrating the impacts of woodland expansion on native wildlife in the West.

Lesser prairie-chickens rarely use habitat where mesquite canopy cover exceeds 15%. (Photo: Charles Dixon)

NRCS uses science to target the best places and ways to work with ranchers to remove woody species and improve the health of native habitat. Since 2010, ranchers have made wildlife-friendly improvements to more than 6 million acres in the West, benefiting sage grouse and prairie chicken while improving livestock forage on privately owned working lands.

The study appears with 14 others in the latest edition of Rangeland Ecology & Management, the scientific journal of the Society for Range Management (SRM).

This special issue—which highlights cutting-edge research on the effects of woodland expansion on at-risk grouse species—is also the focus of an upcoming symposium during the SRM annual conference at the end of this month. The full-day symposium on January 31 will feature 20 presentations on the latest findings woodland expansion. The presentations will be live-streamed and free to watch on SGI’s website. (View the schedule of talks.)

Within the lesser prairie-chicken’s range, predatory birds are more abundant in prairie grasslands with mesquite cover than in open grasslands.