The effects of grazing on vegetation structure and breeding populations of sprague’s pipits and other grassland birds in the Little Missouri National Grasslands
The Sprague’s pipit is a native grassland bird that is endemic to the northern Great Plains. Given its restricted breeding range, cryptic plumage, and furtive behaviors, the species is considered one of the least-studied birds in North America. The species has undergone severe population declines on the breeding grounds. In the 12-month finding on a 2010 petition to list the Sprague’s pipit as endangered or threatened, the US Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that the listing of the Sprague’s pipit is warranted but precluded by higher priority actions. The Sprague’s pipit requires large patches of native grass cover throughout its life cycle. Large-scale losses and degradation of critical grassland habitat highlight the importance of appropriate management and conservation measures for remaining native grasslands. Grasslands depend on disturbances, especially fire and grazing. With a reduction in fire frequency, livestock grazing has increasingly played a larger role in the structuring of grassland communities in this region. Existing information is insufficient to determine how grazing impacts Sprague’s pipit populations. This study will provide a better understanding of the effects of grazing on vegetation structure, Sprague’s pipit occurrence and abundance, and grassland bird diversity and community composition in the Little Missouri National Grassland in western North Dakota. The results from this study will contribute to understanding grassland songbird responses to different grazing intensities and identify specific mechanisms by which conservation measures for declining grassland bird populations can be improved. Field work will occur in 2014–2015 and will be accomplished as part of a MS student research project.
Lawrence D Igl