In the midwestern United States, less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie ecosystem remains. State and federal agencies have responded to this habitat loss with programs and land acquisition that have increased the amount of grassland on the landscape by restoring grassland from other land-use practices. We assessed the effects of habitat restoration and the relative contribution of local habitat and landscape factors on breeding grassland birds in northern Iowa. During the 1999 and 2000 breeding seasons, we surveyed grassland birds in 10 tallgrass prairies and 10 restored grasslands that contained a wide diversity of habitat and landscape conditions. Densities of common bird species were similar between habitat types, except for grasshopper sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) and savannah sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis), which were 4 and 9 times more dense in restored grasslands, respectively. Species richness of breeding birds was similar between habitat types. Habitat structure was different in prairies and restored grasslands; restored grasslands had 7% less total vegetation cover and 3% more bare ground. A nested, multiscale analysis indicated that habitat structure explained some variation in species richness and bird density of all common species, yet addition of landscape structure improved models for species richness and for density of 4 of 8 species considered, explaining an additional 10-29% of the variation. Edge-density metrics were the most common variables entering into landscape models; most species had lower densities in landscapes with high edge density. Our results indicate that restored grassland habitats contain bird communities generally similar to those in native prairie habitats in northern Iowa, suggesting that restored grasslands may provide similar habitat suitability for most grassland birds. In addition, both local habitat and landscape factors can be important for managing breeding grassland birds.
Additional publication details
Habitat and landscape associations of breeding birds in native and restored grasslands