3 years ago

Landscape context drives breeding habitat selection by an enigmatic grassland songbird

W. Alice Boyle, Michael E. Estey, Brett K. Sandercock, Mark R. Herse, Pamela J. Moore

Abstract

Purpose

Wildlife conservation requires understanding how landscape context influences habitat selection at spatial scales broader than the territory or habitat patch.

Objectives

We assessed how landscape composition, fragmentation, and disturbance affected occurrence and within-season site-fidelity of a declining grassland songbird species (Henslow’s Sparrow, Ammodramus henslowii).

Methods

Our study area encompassed eastern Kansas (USA) and North America’s largest remaining tracts of tallgrass prairie. We conducted 10,292 breeding-season point-count surveys over 2 years, and related occurrence and within-season site-occupancy dynamics of sparrows to landscape attributes within 400-, 800-, and 1600-m radii.

Results

Sparrows inhabited < 1% of sites, appearing and disappearing locally within and between breeding seasons. Early in spring, sparrows responded to landscape attributes most strongly within 400-m radii, settling in areas containing > 50% unburned prairie. Later in summer, sparrows responded to landscape attributes most strongly within 800-m radii, settling in areas containing > 50% unfragmented prairie, including sites burned earlier the same year. Sparrows avoided landscapes containing woody vegetation, disappeared from hayfields after mowing, and were most likely to inhabit landscapes containing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields embedded within rangeland.

Conclusions

Landscape context influenced habitat selection at spatial scales broader than both the territory and habitat patch. Protecting contiguous prairies from agricultural conversion and woody encroachment, promoting CRP enrollment, and maintaining portions of undisturbed prairie in working rangelands each year are critical to reversing the conservation crisis in North America’s remaining grasslands. As landscape change alters natural areas worldwide, effective conservation requires suitable conditions for threatened species at multiple spatial scales.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10980-017-0574-z

DOI: 10.1007/s10980-017-0574-z

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