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The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Remaining large grasslands may not be sufficient to prevent grassland bird declines
Year: 2008
Author(s): With, K. A., King, A. W., Jensen, W. E.
Source Title: Biological Conservation
Source Type: Journal
pages: 3152-3167
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Grassland birds are in steep decline throughout many regions of the world. In North America, even some common species have declined by >50% over the last few decades. Declines in grassland bird populations have generally been attributed to widespread agricultural conversion of grasslands; more than 80% of North American grasslands have been converted to agriculture and other land uses, for example. Remaining large grasslands should thus be especially important to the conservation of grassland birds. The Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma (USA) preserves the largest intact tallgrass prairie (2 million ha) left in the world. The Flint Hills supports a major cattle industry, however, and therefore experiences widespread grazing and frequent burning. We assessed the regional population status of three grassland birds that are considered the core of the avian community in this region (Dickcissel, Spiza americana; Grasshopper Sparrow, Ammodramus savannarum; Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna). Our approach is founded on a demographic analysis that additionally explores how to model variability in empirically derived estimates of reproductive success across a large heterogeneous landscape, which ultimately requires the translation of demographic data from local (plot) to regional scales. We found that none of these species is demographically viable at a regional scale under realistic assumptions, with estimated population declines of 329%/year and a likelihood of regional viability of 045% over the two years of study. Current land-management practices may thus be exacerbating grassland bird declines by degrading habitat in even large grassland remnants. Habitat area is thus no guarantee of population viability in landscapes managed predominantly for agricultural or livestock production.