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Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity

Thesis - Boise State University Access Only

Degree Title

Master of Science in Biology



Major Advisor

Dr. Jennifer S. Forbey


Animal habitat selection is a behavioral process that functions at multiple, hierarchically structured spatial scales. Thus multi-scale analyses should be the basis for inferences about factors driving the habitat selection process. Vertebrate herbivores forage selectively on the basis of phytochemistry (i.e., fine-scale habitat selection), but few studies have investigated the influence of selective foraging on habitat selection at larger scales. I tested the hypothesis that phytochemistry is integral to the habitat selection process for vertebrate herbivores. I predicted that habitats selected at three spatial scales would be characterized by higher nutrient concentrations and lower concentrations of plant secondary metabolites (PSMs) than unused habitats. I tested this hypothesis in greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), which are avian herbivores with a seasonally specialized diet of sagebrush. Sage-grouse selected a habitat type (black sagebrush, Artemisia nova) with lower PSM concentrations than the alternative (Wyoming big sagebrush, A. tridentata wyomingensis). Within black sagebrush habitat, sage-grouse selected patches and individual plants within those patches that were higher in nutrient concentrations and lower in PSM concentrations than those not used. These results provide the first evidence for multi-scale habitat selection by an avian herbivore on the basis of phytochemistry, and they suggest that phytochemistry may be a fundamental driver of habitat selection for vertebrate herbivores.

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