Habitat selection of black grouse in an isolated population in northern Germany : the importance of mixing dry and wet habitats
Wildlife habitats in general must provide foraging, hiding and resting places as well as sites for reproduction. Little is known about habitat selection of black grouse in the lowlands of Central Europe. We investigated habitat selection of seven radio tagged birds in an open heath and grassland area surrounded by dense pine forests in the northern German Lüneburg Heath Nature Reserve. This site carries one of the last remaining populations in the Central European lowlands. Using resource selection functions based on presence/background data, we estimated the probability of black grouse occurrence by availability of, or distance to habitat types as well as vegetation diversity indices. Black grouse preferred undisturbed and heterogeneous habitats far from dense forests with wide sand heaths, natural grasslands and intermixed bogs, diverse vegetation and food sources, low density of (loose) shrub formations and solitary trees. Wetlands were extremely important in a landscape that is dominated by dry heaths and grasslands. About 4% (9 km2) of the nature reserve was a suitable habitat for black grouse, mostly due to lack of open areas due to the amount of dense forest, and because smaller, open heaths are only partly suitable. We suggest that to improve habitat quality and quantity for the grouse, habitat patch size and connectivity must be increased, along with a mosaic of heterogeneous landscape structures in these habitat islands. Our results may be used to inform and improve black grouse habitat management in the region and elsewhere.