Prairies and other North American grasslands, although highly fragmented, provide breeding habitat for a diverse array of species, including species of tremendous economic and ecological importance. Conservation and management of these species requires some understanding of how reproductive success is affected by edge effects, patch size, and characteristics of the landscape. We examined how differences in the percentage of grassland in the landscape influenced the relationships between the success of nests of upland-nesting ducks and (1) field size and (2) distance to nearest field and wetland edges. We collected data on study areas composed of 15DS20% grassland and areas composed of 45DS55% grassland in central North Dakota, USA during the 1996 and 1997 nesting seasons. Daily survival rates (DSRs) of duck nests were greater in study areas with 45DS55% grassland than with 15DS20% grassland. Within study areas, we detected a curvilinear relationship between DSR and field size: DSRs were highest in small and large fields and lowest in moderately sized fields. In study areas with 15DS20% grassland, there was no relationship between probability of hatching and distance to nearest field edge, whereas in study areas with 45DS55% grassland, there was a positive relationship between these two variables. Results of this study support the conclusion that both landscape composition and configuration affect reproductive success of ground-nesting birds. We are prompted to question conservation strategies that favor clustering moderately sized patches of nesting habitat within agricultural landscapes because our results show that such patches would have low nest success, most likely caused by predation. Understanding the pattern of nest success, and the predatorDSprey mechanisms that produce the pattern, will enable design of patch configurations that are most conducive to meeting conservation goals.
Additional publication details
Landscape composition, patch size, and distance to edges: interactions affecting duck reproductive success