The delineation of priority areas in western North America for managing Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) represents a broad-scale experiment in conservation biology. The strategy of limiting spatial disturbance and focusing conservation actions within delineated areas may benefit the greatest proportion of Greater Sage-Grouse. However, land use under normal restrictions outside priority areas potentially limits dispersal and gene flow, which can isolate priority areas and lead to spatially disjunct populations. We used graph theory, representing priority areas as spatially distributed nodes interconnected by movement corridors, to understand the capacity of priority areas to function as connected networks in the Bi-State, Central, and Washington regions of the Greater Sage-Grouse range. The Bi-State and Central networks were highly centralized; the dominant pathways and shortest linkages primarily connected a small number of large and centrally located priority areas. These priority areas are likely strongholds for Greater Sage-Grouse populations and might also function as refugia and sources. Priority areas in the Central network were more connected than those in the Bi-State and Washington networks. Almost 90% of the priority areas in the Central network had ≥2 pathways to other priority areas when movement through the landscape was set at an upper threshold (effective resistance, ER12). At a lower threshold (ER4), 83 of 123 priority areas in the Central network were clustered in 9 interconnected subgroups. The current conservation strategy has risks; 45 of 61 priority areas in the Bi-State network, 68 of 123 in the Central network, and all 4 priority areas in the Washington network had ≤1 connection to another priority area at the lower ER4 threshold. Priority areas with few linkages also averaged greater environmental resistance to movement along connecting pathways. Without maintaining corridors to larger priority areas or a clustered group, isolation of small priority areas could lead to regional loss of Greater Sage-Grouse.
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Vol. 119 • No. 1