Planted grasslands and native sod prairie: equivalent habitat for grassland birds?
Little is known about how avian relationships to tracts of native sod prairie compare with avian relationships to single and multiple species of cool- and warm-season grassland plantings. We compared grassland bird species richness and density in 5 grassland cover types (n=97) in the tallgrass prairie region of eastern South Dakota and western Minnesota, 2001-2004. Grassland bird species richness was significantly higher in native sod prairies than it was in all planted cover types except warm-season mixes. Grasslands dominated by exotic species did not support as many grassland bird species or have species densities as high as grasslands containing native species. Intermediate wheatgrass monotypes and cool-season mixes comprised of exotic species contained 40%-60% fewer grassland bird species than native sod prairie. Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) density was 68% and 51% lower in intermediate wheatgrass monotypes and cool-season mixes, respectively, than it was in switchgrass monotypes. Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) density was 75%-91% higher in native sod prairies than it was in any other cover type. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) density was 72% higher in native prairie than it was in grasslands dominated by exotic species. We recommend incorporating a diversity of native plant species into grassland plantings for biomass fuels or wildlife, rather than using monotypes or exotic species, to provide habitat for grassland birds. Although replacing croplands with planted grasslands would benefit grassland bird populations, we caution that replacing existing native sod tracts with planted grasslands would be detrimental to populations of several grassland bird species.