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WSB study: Grassland passerine nest survival goes up in flames

Cara J

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For decades, wildlife managers have used prescribed fires to limit woody vegetation on North America’s grasslands, maintaining them much as natural fires once did. Recent research conducted on the North Dakota prairie suggests that these managed burns may promote songbird nest survival by allowing flames to keep in check trees and tall shrubs that host predators. “Fire is one of the main formative ecological processes in the prairies,” said Todd Grant, co-author on the study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin. In parts of northwestern North Dakota, prescribed burns are conducted every five or six years to mimic the frequency of natural fire and preserve space for herbaceous vegetation. Without these fires, Grant said, grasslands would eventually transform into woodlands, as they have in parts of the region that have undergone long-term fire suppression. In those areas, he said, past research showed that the spread of woody vegetation has lowered the density of prairie passerine nests and taken a toll on the birds’ survival by increased rates of predation and parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in North Dakota, Grant wanted to further investigate the impacts of woody vegetation and prescribed fire on songbird [...]


Read more: http://wildlife.org/wsb-study-grassland-passerine-nest-survival-goes-up-in-flames/

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