Effects of patch-burn grazing on breeding density and territory size of Dickcissels

TitleEffects of patch-burn grazing on breeding density and territory size of Dickcissels
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsVerheijen, BHF, Clipp, HL, Bartolo, AJ, Jensen, WE, Sandercock, BK
JournalAvian Conservation and Ecology
Date PublishedJan-01-2019
Accession NumberKNZ001937
Keywordsdistance sampling, grassland, songbird, Spiza americana, tallgrass prairie, territoriality

Ongoing habitat loss and intensification of management of remaining grasslands have led to large population declines of grassland songbirds in North America. As an alternative to intensive and homogeneous use of rangelands, patch-burn grazing creates heterogeneity in vegetative structure across the landscape by restoring the historical interaction of fire and grazing by large ungulates. Patch-burn grazing can increase diversity and abundance of grassland songbirds, but effects on local breeding density and territory size remain unknown, despite both being important in regulating population dynamics of species. Understanding patterns of density and territory size across the landscape is especially important for species experiencing steep declines in breeding habitat, such as grassland songbirds. During a two-year field study, we tested how densities and territory sizes of Dickcissels (Spiza americana), a common grassland songbird, varied among treatment units that were managed with patch-burn grazing or annual burning with or without grazing at a tallgrass prairie site in northeastern Kansas. We found that local densities of male Dickcissels did not differ among management regimes. However, within the patch-burn grazing treatment, densities were highest in the patch that was burned the previous year and lowest in the most recently burned patch. Furthermore, densities of male Dickcissels were lower in 2013 than in 2014, especially in burned and grazed units that had little vegetative structure and nest cover after the drought conditions of the previous two years. Territory size was not affected by rangeland management, while local densities of Dickcissels only explained ~10% of the variation in territory size. Our results show that patch-burn grazing does not negatively impact densities of breeding Dickcissels compared to annual burning and grazing. Moreover, Dickcissel populations might benefit from patch-burn grazing if males preferentially settle in unburned patches with high forb cover, especially during or directly following drought conditions.