Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) population dynamics and restoration of fire-dependent northern mixed-grass prairie


  • Robert K. Murphy Eagle Environmental, Inc.
  • Karen A. Smith



Sharp-tailed Grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus, northern mixed-grass prairie, prairie management, prescribed fire, North Dakota


Case studies of Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) population dynamics before and during re-introduction of fire to northern mixed-grass prairies that lacked fire for multiple decades are unavailable. At a 108-km2 northern mixed-grass prairie refuge in North Dakota, fire was suppressed from the early 1900s through late 1970s. Nine management units (total area 16.8 km2, 15.7% of the refuge) received initial prescribed fire treatments during 1979–1984. The mean annual density of male Sharp-tailed Grouse attending leks on these units during 1981–1985 (9.0 males/km2) was twice that on the same units during 1961–1965 (4.2 males/km2), amid the fire exclusion era; nonoverlap of 90% CIs encompassing the means suggested a significant treatment effect. However, densities of males on units managed without prescribed fire during 1961–1965 and 1981–1985 did not change between the two periods. By 1987, fire had been re–introduced to >50% of the refuge overall. Mean annual abundance (i.e., total numbers) of lekking males on the entire refuge did not differ between 1961–1965 and 1981–1985 but was significantly greater during 1989–1993 than during 1961–1965 and 1981–1985. Changes in density and abundance of lekking males coincided with fire-induced reductions in woody cover and increases in herbaceous cover. Our study illustrates the marked capacity of Sharp-tailed Grouse to respond to reductions of tree and shrub cover resulting from prescribed fire in northern mixed-grass prairie and the species’ attraction to habitat disturbance in general.

Author Biography

Robert K. Murphy, Eagle Environmental, Inc.

Wildlife Biologist - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, retired

Wildlife Biologist - Eagle Environmental, Inc.