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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Torre J. Hovick; R. Dwayne Elmore; Samuel D. Fuhlendorf
Publication Date: 2014

Grassland birds have experienced greater population declines than any other guild of birds in North America, and yet we know little about habitat use and the affects of management during their non-breeding period on wintering grounds. The paucity of information on wintering grassland birds limits our ability to develop effective conservation strategies. We investigated habitat use by the winter bird community in grasslands with restored heterogeneity resulting from the interactive effects of fire and grazing. We used 500 m line transects distributed across patches (i.e., <13, 13-24, and >24 months post disturbance) resulting from spring burning with growing season grazing (April-Sept) and quantified avian relative abundance, community structure, and probability of patch occupancy while accounting for imperfect detection. Grassland structure that resulted from the fire-grazing interaction created heterogeneity among patches that influenced avian habitat use during winter. Generalist birds such as the Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and meadowlarks (Sturnella spp.) were relatively common in all patch types while more specialized species such as the Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus) and Le Conte's Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) reached greatest abundance and probability of occupancy in the patches with the least and greatest time post disturbance, respectively. This research provides novel information on the response of wintering birds to restored ecological processes in grasslands and can improve efforts to create effective conservation strategies. Our findings add to a growing body of literature supporting the use of fire and grazing to create a shifting grassland mosaic that increases vegetation structural and compositional heterogeneity and maximizes native biodiversity within rangeland ecosystems through the conservation of natural patterns and processes.

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Citation: Hovick, Torre J., Elmore, R. Dwayne, Fuhlendorf, Samuel D. 2014. Structural heterogeneity increases diversity of non-breeding grassland birds. Ecosphere 5(5):art62.

Cataloging Information

  • Ammodramus leconteii
  • Calcarius pictus
  • fire
  • fire-grazing interaction
  • grassland
  • grassland birds
  • grazing
  • Great Plains
  • heterogeneity
  • Le Conte's sparrow
  • nonmetric multidimensional scaling
  • occupancy model
  • patch burn grazing
  • Smith's longspur
  • winter habitat
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 17969