, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 803–813 | Cite as

Linking snake habitat use to nest predation risk in grassland birds: the dangers of shrub cover

  • Page E. KlugEmail author
  • Sara L. Jackrel
  • Kimberly A. With
Conservation ecology - Original Paper


Extremes in rangeland management, varying from too-frequent fire and intensive grazing to the suppression of both, threaten rangeland ecosystems worldwide. Intensive fire and grazing denude and homogenize vegetation whereas their suppression increases woody cover. Although habitat loss is implicated in grassland bird declines, degradation through intensive management or neglect also decreases breeding habitat and may reduce nesting success through increased rates of nest predation. Snakes are important nest predators, but little is known about how habitat use in snakes relates to predation risk for grassland birds nesting within tallgrass prairie subjected to different grazing and fire frequencies. We evaluated nest survival in the context of habitat used by nesting songbirds and two bird-eating snakes, the eastern yellowbelly racer Coluber constrictor flaviventris and Great Plains ratsnake Pantherophis emoryi. Daily nest survival rates decreased with increasing shrub cover and decreasing vegetation height, which characterize grasslands that have been neglected or intensively managed, respectively. Discriminant function analysis revealed that snake habitats were characterized by higher shrub cover, whereas successful nests were more likely to occur in areas with tall grass and forbs but reduced shrub cover. Because snakes often use shrub habitat, birds nesting in areas with increased shrub cover may be at higher risk of nest predation by snakes in addition to other predators known to use shrub habitat (e.g., mid-sized carnivores and avian predators). Depredated nests also occurred outside the discriminant space of the snakes, indicating that other predators (e.g., ground squirrels Spermophilus spp. and bullsnakes Pituophis catenifer) may be important in areas with denuded cover. Targeted removal of shrubs may increase nest success by minimizing the activity of nest predators attracted to shrub cover.


Fire Grazing Nest success Predator–prey relationships Tallgrass prairie 



We thank numerous field assistants for their work in the field. We thank B. Sandercock, P. Weatherhead and two anonymous reviewers who made constructive comments to improve the manuscript. Funding was provided by KPBS LTER Program through NSF, U.S. Department of Agriculture CSREES-NRI Managed Ecosystems Program no. 2003-351-13714, Busch Gardens and Seaworld Conservation Fund, Garden Club of America-Frances M. Peacock Scholarship for Native Bird Habitat, Sigma Xi Grants-in-aid of Research, Alan H. Kamb Grant for Research on Kansas Snakes, and Kansas State University (KSU) through Biology Research and Instruction Enhancement Fund and Institute for Grassland Studies. S. Jackrel was supported by the KPBS-REU Program (DBI-0552930). Wildlife research was conducted under permits from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (SC-084-2006, SC-099-2007, SC-078-2008) and KSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (no. 2463). All research methodologies comply with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Page E. Klug
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sara L. Jackrel
    • 2
  • Kimberly A. With
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory for Landscape and Conservation Ecology, Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyThe College of New JerseyEwingUSA

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