The sagebrush biome in the western United States is home to the imperiled greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and encompasses rangelands used for cattle production. Cattle grazing activities have been implicated in the range-wide decline of the sage-grouse, but no studies have investigated the relationship between the physiological condition of sage-grouse and the presence of grazing cattle. We sampled 329 sage-grouse across four sites (two grazed and two ungrazed) encompassing 13 600 km2 during the spring and late summer–early autumn of 2005 to evaluate whether demographic factors, breeding status, plasma protein levels, and residence in a cattle-grazed habitat were associated with the stress hormone corticosterone. Corticosterone was measured in feces as immunoreactive corticosterone metabolites (ICM). Males captured during the lekking season exhibited higher ICM levels than all others. Prenesting female sage-grouse captured in a grazed site had higher ICM levels than those in ungrazed sites and prenesting female plasma protein levels were negatively correlated with ICM concentrations. With the use of a small-scale spatial model, we identified a positive correlation between cattle pat count and sage-grouse ICM levels. Our model indicated that ICM levels increased by 2.60 ng · g−1 dry feces for every increase in the number of cow pats found in the vicinity. Management practices will benefit from future research regarding the consistency and mechanism(s) responsible for this association and, importantly, how ICM levels and demographic rates are related in this species of conservation concern.
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