Environmental impacts of feral horses (Equus caballus) are a subject of conservation concern and controversial national policy. In North America, feral horses are considered an invasive species where they impact rangelands of the arid and semi-arid western United States. The greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) is a native sagebrush obligate bird species that relies on sagebrush habitats to sustain viable population levels. Recent literature suggests that feral horse presence can have a notable effect on the fitness of native and sagebrush obligate species throughout the arid and semi-arid western United States. The purpose of this thesis was to assess the potential impact of feral horses on population patterns and on late-brood rearing habitat of greater sage-grouse throughout the Great Basin. This was accomplished by pairing known sage-grouse use sites (leks and late brood-rearing habitat) to random sites for comparison. Within each pair, one site was located within Herd Management Area (HMA) boundaries (with assumed horse presence) while the other was located outside (with assumed horse absence). We then assessed lek attendance throughout the state of Nevada and compared attendance rates to known horse population estimates. Furthermore, paired late brood-rearing habitat sites were compared to one another to assess the effect of horse and cattle presence on habitat quality and characteristics. We determined that mean sage-grouse population size at leks is higher (9.14 ± 1.04 males) within HMA boundaries compared to areas outside of HMA boundaries (6.55 ± 0.74 males). Considering late brood-rearing habitat, we determined that statistical differences have occurred between horse and non-horse use sites in the following comparisons: annual grass frequency, percent annual grass cover, dung frequency, total plant height, vegetative height, and horse and cattle dung density. We suggest that feral horse presence can impact sage-grouse habitat, however, a more clear understanding of horse effects on rangeland wildlife habitat is needed to assess actual impacts on wildlife populations in consideration of multiple use management decisions.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Artemisia, Centrocercus urophasianus, disturbance, Equus caballus, feral horses, grazing, late brood-rearing, lek, trampling



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Life Sciences Commons