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Mixed-grass prairie passerines exhibit weak and variable responses to patch size

January 1, 2006

Much of our current understanding of the demographic effects of habitat fragmentation on bird populations is derived from studies of passerines in forests and tallgrass prairie surrounded by woody vegetation. We quantified grassland bird density, nest survival, and productivity in 41 native mixed-grass prairie pastures during 1997-2000 in southern Saskatchewan, Canada. Pastures ranged in size from 18 ha to 11,600 ha and were typically surrounded by agriculture (i.e., ranching and annual cropping). Grassland passerines did not respond strongly or uniformly to patch size. Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii) was the only species whose density increased with pasture size. Patch size had minimal influence on nest survival of Sprague's Pipit or Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida); whereas nest survival increased with patch size for Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and declined for Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus), and Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). Time-specific factors (i.e., nest age, date, and year) were more important predictors of nest survival than patch size. Exploratory analyses indicated that effects of edge distance, pasture shape, or landscape on nest survival were just as likely as patch-size effects. However, effects of edge on Chestnut-collared Longspurs may be governed by landscape-level factors, because nest survival decreased with distance to edge in landscapes with increased amounts of cropland. Our results indicate that mixed-grass prairie parcels ≥18 ha play a role in the conservation of several grassland passerine species currently in decline, but the conservation of Sprague's Pipit likely depends on maintaining larger tracts of native prairie.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2006
Title Mixed-grass prairie passerines exhibit weak and variable responses to patch size
DOI 10.1642/0004-8038(2006)123[807:MPPEWA]2.0.CO;2
Authors S.K. Davis, R.M. Brigham, T.L. Shaffer, P.C. James
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title The Auk
Series Number
Index ID 70028494
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center