Multi-targeted management of upland game birds at the agroecosystem interface in midwestern North America

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Despite its imperative, biodiversity conservation is chronically underfunded, a deficiency that often forces management agencies to prioritize. Single-species recovery thus becomes a focus (often with socio-political implications), whereas a more economical approach would be the transition to multi-targeted management (= MTM). This challenge is best represented in Midwestern North America where biodiversity has been impacted by 300+ years of chronic anthropogenic disturbance such that native tall-grass prairie is now supplanted by an agroecosystem. Here, we develop an MTM with a population genetic metric to collaboratively manage three Illinois upland gamebirds: common pheasant (Phasianus colchicus; pheasant), northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus; quail), and threatened-endangered (T&E) greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus; prairie chicken). We first genotyped our study pheasant at 19 microsatellite DNA loci and identified three captive breeding stocks (N = 143; IL Department of Natural Resources) as being significantly bottlenecked, with relatedness >1st-cousin (μR = 0.158). 'Wild' (non-stocked) pheasant [N = 543; 14 Pheasant-Habitat-Areas (PHAs)] were also bottlenecked, significantly interrelated (μR = 0.150) and differentiated (μFST = 0.047), yet distinct from propagation stock. PHAs that encompassed significantly with larger areas also reflected greater effective population sizes (μNE = 43; P<0.007). We juxtaposed these data against previously published results for prairie chicken and quail, and found population genetic structure driven by drift, habitat/climate impacts, and gender-biased selection via hunter-harvest. Each species (hunter-harvested or T&E) is independently managed, yet their composite population genetic baseline provides the quantitative criteria needed for an upland game bird MTM. Its implementation would require agricultural plots to be rehabilitated/reclaimed using a land-sharing/sparing portfolio that differs markedly from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), where sequestered land decreases as agricultural prices escalate. Cost-savings for an MTM would accrue by synchronizing single-species management with a dwindling hunter-harvest program, and by eliminating propagation/stocking programs. This would sustain not only native grasslands and their resident species, but also accelerate conservation at the wildlife-agroecosystem interface.



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