Brian Gerber: Sage grouse and site-fidelity: moving beyond the win-stay:lose-switch rule.

Brian Gerber. Photo credit Gretchen Ertl.
Brian Gerber. Photo credit Gretchen Ertl.

Dr. Brian D. Gerber is an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island in the department of Natural Resources Science (Lab Website, Google Scholar, ResearchGate). He focuses on understanding behavioral, population, and community ecology to conserve and manage wild animals. In this insight, Dr. Gerber discusses the background of the paper, “Extreme site fidelity as an optimal strategy in an unpredictable and homogeneous environment” and other current research interests.

What’s your paper about?

Our paper is about quantifying and explaining why female Gunnison sage-grouse (Centrocercus minimus) are faithful to where they nest and raise chicks.

How is your paper new or different from other work in this area?

Sage Grouse. Photo credit Bob Gress
Sage Grouse. Photo credit Bob Gress

First, we use a novel statistical model that captures the complex uncertainty in location estimates when using data collected via triangulation with radio-telemetry VHF technology. We then synthetically propagate location uncertainty to estimate the ranging size and utilization distribution of individual Gunnison sage-grouse, honestly depicting our knowledge and uncertainty about space-use. Second, we move beyond thinking about site fidelity in the terms of the win-stay:lose-switch rule to understand the adaptive selection driving species movements and their demographic consequences. To do so, we combine Gunnison sage-grouse space-use and demography with measures of environmental spatial-temporal variability within site fidelity theory.

What does your work contribute to the field?

Our research provides an empirical example of evaluating the adaptive selection of site fidelity. Further, we provide critical spatial and demographic information on the federally threatened Gunnison sage-grouse that could be used for guiding land-management decisions.

Gunnison sage-grouse with radio transmitter. Photo credit Dr. Amy Davis
Gunnison sage-grouse with radio transmitter. Photo credit Dr. Amy Davis

What are the key messages of your article?

Foremost is that we found Gunnison sage-grouse use an `Always Stay’ site fidelity strategy, which is an optimal evolutionary strategy when site quality is unpredictable. This may explain why the recolonization of seemingly good and vacant habitat occurs slowly. Specifically, we found Gunnison sage-grouse to be site faithful to their breeding patch, area of use within the patch, and generally to where they nest. We suggest Gunnison sage-grouse site fidelity is driven by the unpredictability of predation in a relatively homogeneous environment, the lack of benefits and likely costs to moving across landscape patches and leaving known lek and breeding/brooding areas.

About the Author

Brian Gerber in a canoe.
Brian Gerber

How did you get involved in ecology?

I cannot remember a time that I was not interested in what wild animals were doing. How species live is simply fascinating, but also enlightening so that humans can learn to live in concert with the natural world. Understanding species’ ecology is a critical piece in tackling the current global biodiversity crisis.

What are you currently working on?

In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund Indonesia and US, we are investigating the spatial drivers of Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) density, one of the most critically endangered mammals on Earth. They are isolated to a single population at the far western edge of the island of Java, Indonesia where their numbers are steady at less than 80 individuals. To establish additional populations, we need to know about the factors that make for good Javan rhino habitat. I am also working on evaluating statistical approaches to optimize predictions from resource selection functions to help guide land management decisions to support wild animal populations.

What is the best thing about being an ecologist?

You will never be bored; the field of ecology is so all-encompassing and complex.

What do you do in your spare time?

I play with my daughter and rock climb.

One piece of advice for someone in your field…

Science and the business of science requires enormous perseverance and patience. Keep one ear open and keep moving forward.

Read Extreme site fidelity as an optimal strategy in an unpredictable and homogeneous environment in full or read the plain language summary here.

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