Multiple environmental stressors impact wildlife populations, but we often know little about their cumulative and combined influences on population outcomes. We generally know more about past effects than potential future impacts, and direct influences such as changes of habitat footprints than indirect, long-term responses in behavior, distribution, or abundance. Yet, an understanding of all these components is needed to plan for future landscapes that include human activities and wildlife. We developed a case study to assess how spatially explicit individual-based modeling could be used to evaluate future population outcomes of gradual landscape change from multiple stressors. For Greater Sage-grouse in southwest Wyoming, USA, we projected oil and gas development footprints and climate-induced vegetation changes 50 years into the future. Using a time-series of planned oil and gas development and predicted climate-induced changes in vegetation, we recalculated habitat selection maps to dynamically modify future habitat quantity, quality, and configuration. We simulated long-term Sage-grouse responses to habitat change by allowing individuals to adjust to shifts in habitat availability and quality. The use of spatially explicit individual-based modeling offered a useful means of evaluating delayed indirect impacts of landscape change on wildlife population outcomes. The inclusion of movement and demographic responses to oil and gas infrastructure resulted in substantive changes in distribution and abundance when cumulated over several decades and throughout the regional population. When combined, additive development and climate-induced vegetation changes reduced abundance by up to half of the original size. In our example, the consideration of only a single population stressor the final possible population size by as much as 50%. Multiple stressors and their cumulative impacts need to be broadly considered through space and time to avoid underestimating the impacts of multiple gradual changes and overestimating the ability of populations to withstand change.
Keywords: Greater Sage-grouse; Wyoming; climate; cumulative effects; distribution; individual-based model; landscape change; multiple stressors; oil and gas development.
© 2019 by the Ecological Society of America. This article has been contributed to by US Government employees and their work is in the public domain in the USA.