From Wiens to Robel: A Review of Grassland-Bird Habitat Selection




ABSTRACT  Efforts to stabilize or increase grassland bird populations require identification of suitable habitat as a first step. Although the number of studies examining grassland-bird habitat selection has increased substantially in recent years, much uncertainty exists regarding local-scale habitat variables that researchers should consider. We reviewed 57 studies and identified important vegetation features correlated with grassland bird abundance, density, occurrence, and nest and territory selection. Our objectives were to 1) guide future studies of grassland-bird habitat use by providing a reduced set of relevant vegetation characteristics, 2) challenge researchers to critically think about what variables to consider, and 3) highlight the need to include consistent definitions of terms used to describe grassland bird habitat. We identified 9 variables that were important predictors of habitat use by grassland birds: coverage of bare ground (important in 50% of the instances where it was included), grass (34% of instances), dead vegetation (33% of instances), forbs (31% of instances), and litter (29% of instances), along with an index of vegetation density (39% of instances) and volume (39% of instances), litter depth (36% of instances), and vegetation height (41% of instances). Only 25% of studies provided information on effects sizes and measures of variance. Furthermore, definitions of measured habitat variables were not consistent among studies. We provide definitions of the 9 important variables and implore authors to report effect size and measures of variance. Standardization of terms and reporting of meaningful results will facilitate replication of wildlife research and enhance our ability to recognize general patterns that emerge from observational studies of habitat use.