We examined the influence of local and landscape-level attributes of fragmented habitats in shrubsteppe habitats on the breeding distributions of Sage (Amphispiza belli) and Brewer's (Spizella breweri) Sparrows, Sage Thrashers (Oreoscoptes montanus), Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris), and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) in the Snake River Plains of southwestern Idaho. We developed habitat (resource) selection models for each species by combining bird counts conducted from 1991 through 1933 with local vegetation characteristics and landscape attributes derived from satellite imagery. Site selection by shrubsteppe species (Sage and Brewer's Sparrows, and Sage Thrashers) depended on local vegetation cover and landscape features, such as the patch size of shrub habitats or the spatial similarity of sites. Marginal sites for these species (with species present in one of three years) were intermediate between unoccupied (never present) and occupied sites along environmental gradients characterized by increasing size of shrub habitat patches and total shrub cover and by decreasing disturbance. Horned Larks and Western Meadowlarks, typical grassland species, were not sensitive to landscape features, and their occupancy depended on the amount of grassland or shrub cover. In contrast to shrubsteppe species, sites that varied by occupancy rates of Western Meadowlarks did not significantly differ in vegetation or landscape components. Our results demonstrate that fragmentation of shrubsteppe significantly influenced the presence of shrub-obligate species. Because of restoration difficulties, the disturbance of semiarid shrubsteppe may cause irreversible loss of habitat and significant long-term consequences for the conservation of shrub-obligate birds.
Additional publication details
Landscape characteristics of fragmented shrubsteppe habitats and breeding passerine birds