Conservation-priority grassland bird response to urban landcover and habitat fragmentation

Valerie L. Buxton, Thomas J. Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As urbanization in the landscape increases, some urban centers are setting aside habitat for wildlife. This habitat may be particularly valuable to declining or conservation-priority species. One group in particular need of conservation actions that may benefit from habitat located in urban areas is grassland birds. Declines of grassland bird species have been particularly severe in the Midwestern U.S., where most grassland cover has been lost, fragmented, and surrounded by unsuitable habitat. Conservation efforts have focused on protecting large grasslands surrounded by minimal amounts of trees and development. Although urban development is considered hostile to grassland birds, this assumption has received little attention. In heavily fragmented landscapes where habitat is limited, urban grasslands may be of significant value to grassland birds. We examined grassland bird response to development and additional landscape and habitat variables in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. In 2012 and 2013, we surveyed bird communities in grassland patches along a gradient of urbanization and patch sizes. Density of Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) increased with amount of development, while density of Sedge Wrens (Cistothorus platensis) decreased. Development did not appreciably impact Bobolinks (Dolichonyx oryzivorus), Dickcissels (Spiza americana), Eastern Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna), Grasshopper Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum), or Henslow’s Sparrows (Ammodramus henslowii). Patch size had a positive effect on species densities. These results indicate that for many conservation-priority grassland birds, urban landcover surrounding grasslands generally has neutral rather than negative effects on habitat use. Therefore, grasslands in developed landscapes may provide valuable contributions to regional conservation efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-613
Number of pages15
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Density
  • Fragmentation
  • Grassland birds
  • Landscape
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Urban Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Conservation-priority grassland bird response to urban landcover and habitat fragmentation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this