Grassland bird populations are declining. Invasive plant species may be contributing to these declines by altering habitat quality. However, the effects of invasive plants on grassland birds are largely unknown. Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) is an exotic, invasive weed in the northern Great Plains. We examined the effects of leafy spurge infestation on densities of breeding birds, nest-site selection, and nest success in grasslands on the Sheyenne National Grassland (SNG), North Dakota, USA, 1999-2000. We categorized spurge-infested grasslands into 3 groups (low, medium, high), based on the area covered by spurge patches. We surveyed 75 100-m-radius circular points (25 in each group), and searched for nests in 6 16-ha plots (2 in each group). Grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) and savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) densities were lower on high-spurge points than on low- and medium-spurge points. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) densities were not significantly different among spurge cover groups. Spurge cover did not appear to be an important factor in nest-site selection. However, western meadowlark nest success was positively associated with spurge cover. Vegetation structure is an important indicator of habitat quality and resource availability for grassland birds. Changes in vegetation structure caused by introduced plant species, such as spurge, can alter resource availability and hence affect bird community composition. Managers of spurge-infested grasslands should continue current spurge control measures to help prevent further declines in grassland habitat quality and grassland bird populations.
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Effects of leafy spurge infestation on grassland birds