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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Effects of grazing on vegetation structure
Year: 2005
Author(s): Sutter, B., Ritchison, G.
Source Title: Journal of Field Ornithology
Source Type: Journal
pages: 345-351
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Populations of Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum) have been declining, and agricultural practices, such as grazing by domestic cattle (Bos taurus), are likely contributing factors. Grazing can alter the composition and structure of vegetation and influence prey availability, and such changes can impact the nesting success of grassland birds. Our objective was to examine the nesting success of Grasshopper Sparrows in grazed and ungrazed habitats on the Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, Kentucky. Clutch sizes of female Grasshopper Sparrows nesting in grazed and ungrazed areas differed significantly, with mean clutch sizes of 4.48 in ungrazed areas and 3.91 in grazed areas. In addition, nest success was higher in ungrazed areas (70%) than grazed areas (25%). Insect sweeps revealed that invertebrate biomass in ungrazed areas was greater than in grazed areas, and analysis of vegetation indicated that grazed areas had less litter, more shrubs, and shorter, less dense vegetation than ungrazed areas. Most unsuccessful nests were depredated, and the higher predation rates on nests in grazed areas may have been due to differences in vegetation structure. Shorter, less dense vegetation in grazed areas may make it easier for predators to observe adults and locate nests, while taller, denser vegetation in ungrazed areas may provide greater concealment. While the results of previous studies suggest that light to moderate grazing can produce habitat suitable for Grasshopper Sparrows, more intense grazing, as on our study area (one animal unit/ha), creates habitat less suitable for these sparrows.