Local and Landscape Constraints on Habitat Management for Upland Birds


Throughout the Great Plains, changing land-use practices are resulting in large scale biodiversity loss and an ever increasing dependence on effective conservation and restoration efforts provided by private, state, and federal agencies. Yet, far too often local management efforts fail to demonstrate the desired outcome for wildlife populations. Understanding why management actions are unsuccessful is paramount, but past studies often fail to consider the importance of ecological mechanisms that act across multiple spatial and temporal scales. By exploring how grassland bird communities select habitat based on local vegetative composition as well as landscape attributes, we can gain perspective on why populations and communities fail to react to apparently suitable habitat improvements.

Using geographic information system spatial analysis tools, we are analyzing data from avian point count surveys and local vegetation assessments within a larger land cover layer of Nebraska. The resulting outputs are being employed to create species specific spatial models for Nebraska, which identify key focus areas to implement management efforts with the goal of maximizing management benefits to grassland bird communities.

Current Status

Over the 2010, 2011, and 2012 field seasons, roughly 3,000 avian point count surveys were conducted on State Wildlife Management Areas, private properties enrolled in the Open Fields and Waters program, road transects, and other private properties enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program throughout much of Nebraska. In order to validate our spatially explicit species distribution models, this past field season we added ten transects located in the panhandle, north-central, and north-eastern portions of the state. Analysis of habitat factors influencing upland species and other obligate grassland birds indicates that the surrounding landscape strongly affects local habitat suitability. Thus, the success or failure of conservation efforts on the ground may be determined by the landscape context.

Vicki Simonsen, as an undergraduate UCARE student, tested one of the mechanisms that may explain how landscapes influence pheasant populations. In the summer of 2013, we used artificial nests to test if the presence of suitable nesting habitat in the surrounding landscape reduced nest predation. Over the course of two months we put out more than 100 nests, some of which were monitored by trail cameras.

Project Website
Prairie Birds
Badger depredating an artifical nest (courtesy: Victoria Simonsen)
Badger depredating an artifical nest (courtesy: Victoria Simonsen)
Principal Investigator(s)
-Joseph (TJ) Fontaine, NE CFWRU; Larkin Powell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Graduate Student(s)
-Chris Jorgensen, M.S. (2012)

-Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, University of Nebraska – Lincoln UCARE Program