Bird populations are influenced by many environmental factors at both large and small scales. Our study evaluated the influences of regional climate and land-use variables on the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus), Black Tern (Childonias niger), and Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) in the prairie potholes of the upper Midwest of the United States. These species were chosen because their diverse habitat preference represent the spectrum of habitat conditions present in the Prairie Potholes, ranging from open prairies to dense cattail marshes. We evaluated land-use covariates at three logarithmic spatial scales (1,000 ha, 10,000 ha, and 100,000 ha) and constructed models a priori using information from published habitat associations and climatic influences. The strongest influences on the abundance of each of the three species were the percentage of wetland area across all three spatial scales and precipitation in the year preceding that when bird surveys were conducted. Even among scales ranging over three orders of magnitude the influence of spatial scale was small, as models with the same variables expressed at different scales were often in the best model subset. Examination of the effects of large-scale environmental variables on wetland birds elucidated relationships overlooked in many smaller-scale studies, such as the influences of climate and habitat variables at landscape scales. Given the spatial variation in the abundance of our focal species within the prairie potholes, our model predictions are especially useful for targeting locations, such as northeastern South Dakota and central North Dakota, where management and conservation efforts would be optimally beneficial. This modeling approach can also be applied to other species and geographic areas to focus landscape conservation efforts and subsequent small-scale studies, especially in constrained economic climates.
Additional publication details
Land use and climate affect Black Tern, Northern Harrier, and Marsh Wren abundance in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States