Effects of soils and grazing on breeding birds of uncultivated upland grasslands of the Northern Great Plains

Wildlife Research Report 15
By:  and 



The principal use of uncultivated upland grasslands in the northern Great Plains is for livestock production. However, on lands set aside for wildlife or for scientific or recreational use, grazing by livestock may be used as a management measure to enhance populations of game species or to create conditions that increase the diversity of plant or animal species. To determine the effects of grazing on the avifauna of various types of Great Plains grasslands, we conducted bird censuses and plant surveys during 1974-78 on 615 plots of lightly, moderately, or heavily grazed native rangeland.Numbers of horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), lark bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys), and chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus) accounted for 65-75% of the total bird population, regardless of grazing intensity. For the entire area sampled (600,000 km2), horned lark, western meadowlark, and chestnut-collared longspur were the dominant birds. Major differences in composition of the dominant species and species richness occurred among the major soils. Increased mean annual soil temperature seemingly had a greater negative influence on avian species richness than did decreased soil moisture or organic matter content. Differences in total bird density were not significant among soils and among grazing intensities within most soils. For the area as a whole, light or moderate grazing resulted in increased species richness. Of the 29 species studied, 2 responded significantly to grazing for the area as a whole and 6 others to grazing on the soil in which peak densities occurred. Response of several other species to grazing effects evidently varied among strata.A list of plants with mean cover values of more than 1% in any of the 18 combinations of soils and grazing intensities contained less than 25 species, attesting to the relative simplicity of the grassland vegetation in the northern Great Plains. Agropyron spp. and Bouteloua gracilis were the dominant plants that provided greater than average cover on the best habitat for the most bird species. Optimum habitat for each bird species is given in terms of grazing, soils, and dominant plant species. Increased soil temperature probably had a negative effect on plant species richness, especially among soils with a high organic matter content that supported perennial grasses and other mesophytes.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title Effects of soils and grazing on breeding birds of uncultivated upland grasslands of the Northern Great Plains
Series title Wildlife Research Report
Series number 15
Year Published 1982
Language English
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Publisher location Washington, DC
Contributing office(s) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description 33 p.
First page 0
Last page 33
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