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Scale-specific habitat relationships influence patch occupancy: defining neighborhoods to optimize the effectiveness of landscape-scale grassland bird conservation

Abstract

Context

Beyond the recognized importance of protecting large areas of contiguous habitat, conservation efforts for many species are complicated by the fact that patch suitability may also be affected by characteristics of the landscape within which the patch is located. Currently, little is known about the spatial scales at which species respond to different aspects of the landscape surrounding an occupied patch.

Objectives

Using grassland bird point count data, we describe an approach to evaluating scale-specific effects of landscape composition on patch occupancy.

Methods

We used data from 793 point count surveys conducted in idle and grazed grasslands across Wisconsin, USA from 2012 to 2014 to evaluate scale-dependencies in the response of grassland birds to landscape composition. Patch occupancy models were used to evaluate the relationship between occupancy and landscape composition at scales from 100 to 3000 m.

Results

Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) exhibited a pattern indicating selection for grassland habitats in the surrounding landscape at all spatial scales while selecting against other habitats. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) displayed evidence of scale sensitivity for all habitat types. Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) showed a strong positive response to pasture and idle grass at all scales and negatively to cropland at large scales. Unlike other species, patch occupancy by Henslow’s Sparrow (A. henslowii) was primarily influenced by patch area.

Conclusions

Our results suggest that both working grasslands (pasture) and idle conservation grasslands can play an important role in grassland bird conservation but also highlight the importance of considering species-specific patch and landscape characteristics for effective conservation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all the field technicians and volunteers for their help in data collection. We are grateful for the partnership of private landowners, without whom this study would not have been possible. Funding was provided by the US Geological Survey’s Science Support Partnership Program, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Project W-160-P, and US Fish and Wildlife Service. We thank the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for assistance with publication expenses. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Correspondence to Michael R. Guttery.

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Guttery, M.R., Ribic, C.A., Sample, D.W. et al. Scale-specific habitat relationships influence patch occupancy: defining neighborhoods to optimize the effectiveness of landscape-scale grassland bird conservation. Landscape Ecol 32, 515–529 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-016-0462-y

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Keywords

  • Grassland birds
  • Landscape composition
  • Area sensitive
  • Patch occupancy
  • Land use
  • Scale sensitivity