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Weather and land cover create a predictable “stress-scape” for a winter-adapted bird

Abstract

Context

Variability in temperature and snow cover are characteristics of high-latitude environments that impose significant pressures on overwintering species. To cope with increased energetic demands and decreased resources, species occupying seasonal environments often seek out refugia that buffer them from inclement conditions. Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) roosting in the thermally stable microhabitat beneath deep snow are buffered from negative effects of cold temperatures on physiological stress (glucocorticoid hormone levels).

Objective

Despite physiological advantages of accessing warmer refugia during winter, it is unknown how land cover and winter climate promote the occurrence of such refugia over space and time. Analogous to the landscape of fear, which mediates how prey navigate spatial variation in predation risk, mapping a landscape of stress, or stress-scape, may identify hotspots where metabolic challenges persist.

Methods

We assayed droppings for fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCMs) collected from radio-tagged ruffed grouse over three winters and developed a spatial model of FCM concentrations across the extent of our study area, thus quantifying a stress-scape.

Results

FCMs increased with shallower snow depths, less dense snow, colder ambient temperatures, and more open habitat. However, despite considerable spatiotemporal variation in snow depth, snow density, and temperature, the regions across the landscape where grouse had elevated FCM levels were consistent and predictable across years.

Conclusions

Stress-scapes offer a new tool for understanding and quantifying indirect effects of stressors and can identify areas of the landscape where there may be consistent hotspots of stress that are the result of multiple ecological and environmental challenges.

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Data Availability

Data associated with this manuscript are available via Dryad: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.t4b8gtj3h.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Ruffed Grouse Society for funding, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for logistical assistance and additional funding. The Merrill and Emita Hastings Foundation and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology provided additional support. This study is based on work funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, Hatch Projects 1006604 and 1003605. We would like to thank the staff at Sandhill Wildlife Area for their support and logistical assistance. We thank B. Heindl, A. Walker, K. Kovach, T. Gettelman, A. Elzinga, J. Ostroski, A. Bradley, A. Wilkie, and E. Leicht for many hours collecting field data. We also thank D. Ensminger, C. Pritchard, L.S. McKay, A. Giordano, and B. Hayden for assistance preparing fecal samples for analysis.

Funding

This study was funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, United States Department of Agriculture, Hatch Projects 1006604 and 1003605. This study was also partially funded by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Ruffed Grouse Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Departmetn of Forest and Widlife Ecology. Additional support was received from the Merrill and Emita Hastings Foundation.

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BZ, AAS, MJS and JNP conceived and designed the study. AAS and BZ conducted statistical analyses and drafted initial version of the manuscript. AAS collected field data, carried out hormone assays, and led manuscript development. MJS coordinated hormone analysis. JNP provided input on conceptual development. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript and gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amy A. Shipley.

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Shipley, A.A., Sheriff, M.J., Pauli, J.N. et al. Weather and land cover create a predictable “stress-scape” for a winter-adapted bird. Landsc Ecol 37, 779–793 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-021-01354-z

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Fecal corticosterone metabolites
  • Ruffed grouse Bonasa umbellus
  • Snow
  • Stress
  • Winter ecology