Cattle grazing and grassland birds in the northern tallgrass prairie

Ahlering, Marissa A.; Merkord, Christopher L.
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SourceWeb of Science
Volume / Issue80 / 4
Pages643 - 654
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Publication Date16-May
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AbstractWith the loss of over 70% of North America's grasslands (Samson et al. 2004), grassland birds increasingly rely on habitat that is privately owned and managed for livestock production. Therefore, it is critical to understand how livestock grazing influences grassland bird abundance and community structure. We evaluated the response of 4 obligate grassland bird species to grazing intensity, vegetation structure, ecological site description, and burning across a landscape including pastures with no recent grazing to pastures experiencing grazing intensities similar to that for private livestock production operations. We evaluated models using a binomial N-mixture model implemented in the R package unmarked. Overall, 3 of the 4 obligate species included positive relationships with grazing intensity in the top abundance model (i.e., grasshopper sparrow [Ammodramus savannarum], bobolink [Dolichonyx oryzivorus], and upland sandpiper [Bartramia longicauda]), suggesting the range of grazing intensities evaluated (0_4.57 animal months/ha) did not negatively affect the abundance of these species. Marbled godwit (Limosa fedoa) abundance, however, was higher with greater variability in litter depth but was not directly related to grazing intensity. Finally, the effect of year was correlated with decreasing precipitation over the course of the study and had the greatest influence on community composition with some community separation by grazing intensity. Our results suggest that cattle grazing can positively influence the abundance of some grassland bird species but annual variation in weather patterns can influence community composition at sites regardless of management decisions.
Created: 12/14/2017 10:29 AM (ET)
Modified: 12/14/2017 10:29 AM (ET)
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