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Prioritizing landscapes for grassland bird conservation with hierarchical community models

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Context: Given widespread population declines of birds breeding in North American grasslands, management that sustains wildlife while supporting rancher livelihoods is needed. However, management effects vary across landscapes, and identifying areas with the greatest potential bird response to conservation is a pressing research need. Objectives: We developed a hierarchical modeling approach to study grassland bird response to habitat factors at multiple scales and levels. We then identified areas to prioritize for implementing a bird-friendly ranching program. Methods: Using bird survey data from grassland passerine species and 175 sites (2009–2018) across northeast Wyoming, USA, we fit hierarchical community distance sampling models and evaluated drivers of site-level density and regional-level distribution. We then created spatially-explicit predictions of bird density and distribution for the study area and predicted outcomes from pasture-scale management scenarios. Results: Cumulative overlap of species distributions revealed areas with greater potential community response to management. Within each species’ potential regional-level distribution, the grassland bird community generally responded negatively to cropland cover and vegetation productivity at local scales (up to 10 km of survey sites). Multiple species declined with increasing bare ground and litter cover, shrub cover, and grass height measured within sites. Conclusions: We demonstrated a novel approach to multi-scale and multi-level prioritization for grassland bird conservation based on hierarchical community models and extensive population monitoring. Pasture-scale management scenarios also suggested the examined community may benefit from less bare ground cover and shorter grass height. Our approach could be extended to other bird guilds in this region and beyond.




Monroe, A. P., Edmunds, D. R., Aldridge, C. L., Holloran, M. J., Assal, T. J., & Holloran, A. G. (2021). Prioritizing landscapes for grassland bird conservation with hierarchical community models. Landscape Ecology, 36(4), 1023–1038.

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