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Conceptual ecological model for management of breeding grassland birds in the Mid-Atlantic Region

January 1, 2006

The status of grassland birds has become an increasingly important conservation issue. These species exhibit the most consistent population declines of any group of North American birds during the past 40 years. Anecdotal evidence suggests these declines have been occurring for nearly a century (Peterjohn and Sauer 1999). While the widespread conversion of grasslands into other habitats contributed to these declining populations, other factors such as habitat fragmentation and mowing regimes are also implicated (Vickery et al. 1999a). This plight of grassland birds has heightened awareness of the need for concerted conservation actions to reverse these seriously declining population trends.

The National Park Service (NPS) is positioned to potentially contribute to grassland bird conservation in the Mid-Atlantic Region. The NPS maintains a number of historic sites and former battlefields that are managed for their cultural significance but also support wildlife populations. Many of these “cultural parks” maintain open landscapes to recreate land use patterns that existed at the times of the historical events. These open landscapes are primarily managed grasslands which could be maintained to benefit grassland birds.

In 2005, the NPS initiated a project exploring the potential of “cultural parks” to support significant breeding grassland bird communities. This project involved parks within three NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program (I&M) networks, Mid-Atlantic, National Capital, and Eastern Rivers and Mountains. Five parks were selected for the initial focus of this study, all of which maintain open landscapes for interpretation of historic events. Most parks were selected because they represent the most extensive grassland habitats within their networks, with the rationale that if these parks cannot support significant breeding grassland bird communities, then parks with smaller acreages cannot support these communities either. The five parks included in this study are: Antietam National Battlefield, Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Gettysburg National Battlefield, Manassas National Battlefield, and Monocacy National Battlefield.

This conceptual ecological model is one product of this project. The information presented below allows NPS Network Coordinators to understand the factors to consider when making decisions concerning grassland management within their networks. This model provides park Resource Managers with information on grassland ecology in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the ecological requirements of grassland birds likely to occur in their parks, and management issues that influence whether significant breeding populations can be expected to occupy grasslands created and maintained in the parks. The Resource Managers can then make informed decisions concerning their ability to create and maintain grassland habitats.

The emphasis of this conceptual model is restricted to management of breeding grassland birds. Additional species may occur in this region during migration and winter, while habitat requirements of all grassland birds during nonbreeding seasons will differ from those described for the breeding season.

Publication Year 2006
Title Conceptual ecological model for management of breeding grassland birds in the Mid-Atlantic Region
Authors Bruce G. Peterjohn
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Natural Resource Report
Series Number NPS/NER/NRR--2006/005
Index ID 70176688
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Patuxent Wildlife Research Center