Broad-scale impacts of an invasive native predator on a sensitive native prey species within the shifting avian community of the North American Great Basin.
Human enterprise has modified ecosystem processes through direct and indirect alteration of native predators' distribution and abundance. For example, human activities subsidize food, water, and shelter availability to generalist predators whose subsequent increased abundance impacts lower trophic-level prey species. The common raven (Corvus corax; hereafter, raven) is an avian scavenger and predator, native to the northern hemisphere, that can become invasive when subsidized. Raven populations are increasing at unprecedented rates in many regions globally. Information regarding scale of impact and potential ecological thresholds is needed to guide conservation actions aimed at reducing adverse effects on sensitive prey. We conducted a multi-part analysis to investigate broad-scale variation in raven densities and impacts on nesting greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus), an indicator species for sagebrush ecosystems in western North America. We estimated raven densities using >16,000 point surveys over 10 years within the Great Basin, USA, and examined associations with anthropogenic and environmental covariates. Average density was 0.54 ravens km-2 (95% CI: 0.42-0.70), with higher densities at lower relative elevations comprising increased agriculture and development. We then used a reduced dataset to estimate the effect of raven density on sage-grouse nest survival (nests = 737). We identified negative impacts to nesting sage-grouse, especially where raven density exceeded ~0.40 km-2, a potential ecological threshold. We mapped regions where elevated raven densities were predicted to depress sage-grouse population growth in the absence of compensatory demographic responses from other sage-grouse life-history stages, and found ~64% of sage-grouse breeding areas were adversely impacted by high raven density.