Restoring major ecosystem drivers in one of the world's most endangered ecosystems : the effects of bison reintroduction, prescribed fire, and time since restoration on grassland bird nest success in tallgrass prairie
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Tallgrass prairie has been converted to agriculture over the past century, making it one of the most threatened ecosystems globally. Agriculture conversion of prairie has severely fragmented the landscape and many grassland birds are now in decline and threatened with regional extirpation. Restoration projects have sought to increase the quality and size of prairie fragments by converting cultivated land back to prairie through revegetation and management with prescribed fire, hypothetically increasing breeding habitat for grassland birds. Bison and other native grazers are now being reintroduced to prairie restorations as a final step in a complete restoration to increase habitat quality. The goal of this study was to understand how restoration practices influence nest density and survivorship. I hypothesized that nest density and survivorship would increase with restoration age, fire return interval, and bison presence. I measured nest density and survivorship and deployed artificial nests in four restored tracts and two remnant tracts from May to July 2014 and 2015. Nest density of natural nests decreased following bison reintroduction. These results suggest that bison do not have an immediate impact on grassland bird survivorship. Future research, however, is needed to see if these patterns hold over time and if they are affecting species composition or nest success alone.