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Keywords:

  • avian reproduction;
  • grassland birds;
  • invasive plants;
  • predation risk;
  • terrestrial invertebrates

Abstract

One common problem encountered when restoring grasslands is the prominence of non-native plant species. It is unclear what effect non-native plants have on habitat quality of grassland passerines, which are among the most imperiled groups of birds. In 2004 and 2005, we compared patterns of avian reproduction and the mechanisms that might influence those patterns across a gradient of 13 grasslands in the Zumwalt Prairie in northeastern Oregon that vary in the degree of non-native plant cover (0.9–53.4%). We monitored the fate of 201 nests of all the breeding species in these pastures and found no association of percent non-native cover with nest densities, clutch size, productivity, nest survival, and nestling size. Regardless of the degree of non-native cover, birds primarily fed on Coleoptera, Orthoptera, and Araneae. But as percent non-native cover in the pastures increased, Orthoptera made up a greater proportion of diet and Coleoptera made up a smaller proportion. These diet switches were not the result of changes in terrestrial invertebrate abundance but may be related to decreases in percent bare ground associated with increasing cover of non-native vegetation. Measures of nest crypticity were not associated with cover of non-native vegetation, suggesting that predation risk may not increase with increased cover of non-native vegetation. Thus, the study results show that increased non-native cover is not associated with reduced food supplies or increased predation risk for nesting birds, supporting the growing body of evidence that grasslands with a mix of native and non-native vegetation can provide suitable habitat for native grassland breeding birds.