Landscape Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 12, pp 2351–2364 | Cite as

Landscape context drives breeding habitat selection by an enigmatic grassland songbird

  • Mark R. HerseEmail author
  • Michael E. Estey
  • Pamela J. Moore
  • Brett K. Sandercock
  • W. Alice Boyle
Research Article



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


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).


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.


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.


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.


Grassland birds Habitat loss Habitat fragmentation Matrix effects Multiscale 



We thank field technicians K. Courtois, L. Rhine, K. Scott, P. Turner, and E. Wilson, and lab assistant S. Replogle-Curnutt for their dedication and hard work. B. Meiwes and V. Cikanek of Kansas Dept. Wildlife, Parks and Tourism provided accommodations at the Fall River Wildlife Area. K. A. With provided valuable comments that improved earlier versions of this chapter. Our study is contribution No. 17-289-J from the Kansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and was funded by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers Landscape Conservation Cooperative. Data are available on Zenodo:, doi:  10.5281/zenodo.823708.

Supplementary material

10980_2017_574_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1446 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark R. Herse
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Michael E. Estey
    • 2
  • Pamela J. Moore
    • 2
  • Brett K. Sandercock
    • 1
    • 4
  • W. Alice Boyle
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of BiologyKansas State UniversityManhattanUSA
  2. 2.Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, Office of Conservation Science, U.S. Fish & Wildlife ServiceFlint Hills National Wildlife RefugeHartfordUSA
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand
  4. 4.Norwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTrondheimNorway

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