Present and future thermal environments available to Sharp-tailed Grouse in an intact grassland
Document Type Article
© 2018 Raynor et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
Better understanding animal ecology in terms of thermal habitat use has become a focus of ecological studies, in large part due to the predicted temperature increases associated with global climate change. To further our knowledge on how ground-nesting endotherms respond to thermal landscapes, we examined the thermal ecology of Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) during the nesting period. We measured site-specific iButton temperatures (TiB) and vegetation characteristics at nest sites, nearby random sites, and landscape sites to assess thermal patterns at scales relevant to nesting birds. We asked if microhabitat vegetation characteristics at nest sites matched the characteristics that directed macrohabitat nest-site selection. Grouse selected sites sheltered by dense vegetation for nesting that moderated TiB on average up to 2.7°C more than available landscape sites. Successful nests were positioned in a way that reduced exposure to thermal extremes by as much as 4°C relative to failed nests with an overall mean daytime difference (±SE) of 0.4 ±0.03°C. We found that macrohabitat nest-site selection was guided by dense vegetation cover and minimal bare ground as also seen at the microhabitat scale. Global climate projections for 2080 suggest that TiB at nest sites may approach temperatures currently avoided on the landscape, emphasizing a need for future conservation plans that acknowledge fine-scale thermal space in climate change scenarios. These data show that features of grassland landscapes can buffer organisms from unfavorable microclimatic conditions and highlight how thermal heterogeneity at the individual-level can drive decisions guiding nest site selection.