Grassland birds endemic to the central shortgrass prairie ecoregion of the United States have experienced steep and widespread declines over the last 3 decades, and factors influencing reproductive success have been implicated. Nest predation is the major cause of nest failure in passerines, and nesting success for some shortgrass prairie birds is exceptionally low. The 3 primary land uses in the central shortgrass prairie ecoregion are native shortgrass prairie rangeland (62), irrigated and nonirrigated cropland (29), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP, 8). Because shortgrasscropland edges and CRP may alter the community of small mammal predators of grassland bird nests, I sampled multiple sites on and near the Pawnee National Grasslands in northeast Colorado, USA, to evaluate 1) whether small mammal species richness and densities were greater in CRP fields and shortgrass prairiecropland edges compared to shortgrass prairie habitats, and 2) whether daily survival probabilities of ground-nesting grassland bird nests were negatively correlated with densities of small mammals. Small mammal species richness and densities, estimated using trapping webs, were generally greater along edges and on CRP sites compared to shortgrass sites. Vegetation did not differ among edges and shortgrass sites but did differ among CRP and shortgrass sites. Daily survival probabilities of artificial nests at edge and CRP sites and natural nests at edge sites did not differ from shortgrass sites, and for natural nests small mammal densities did not affect nest survival. However, estimated daily survival probability of artificial nests was inversely proportional to thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus) densities. In conclusion, these data suggest that although land-use patterns on the shortgrass prairie area in my study have substantial effects on the small mammal community, insufficient data existed to determine whether land-use patterns or small mammal density were affecting grassland bird nest survival. These findings will be useful to managers for predicting the effects of land-use changes in the shortgrass prairie on small mammal communities and avian nest success. ?? 2010 The Wildlife Society.
Additional publication details
Land use and small mammal predation effects on shortgrass prairie birds