Habitat loss from agricultural expansion is one of the leading causes of endangerment for terrestrial vertebrates. Restoration programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) were initiated in part to ameliorate grassland loss. Previous assessments of grassland restoration efforts have not focused on medium and large mammals because of sampling difficulties. More generally, few assessments of restoration outcomes consider effects of landscape context. We integrated camera trapping with occupancy modeling to assess mammal responses on 30 restored grassland sites in a dynamic agroecosystem in Illinois from 2014 to 2015. We tested hypotheses about the effects of local habitat conditions and landscape context on use of restored grasslands by four focal species: raccoons (Procyon lotor), eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus), coyotes (Canis latrans), and white-Tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Most species showed seasonal differences in grassland use that reflected the dynamic nature of the surrounding agricultural matrix (i.e., loss of hiding cover and supplemental food from crop harvesting). Landscape context also was important; species occurrences were related to grassland size and isolation, distances to human structures, and distances to nearest forest. The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was not detected on any site, despite >5000 camera nights of sampling, indicating further research is needed to understand how competitive interactions with coyotes might limit the distribution of this smaller canid. Grasslands created by the CRP and SAFE programs provide habitat for medium and large mammals. Understanding how use of these habitats depends on landscape context can enable managers to strategically place new grasslands to either promote colonization by games species or to deter use by raccoons, an important predator of grassland bird nests.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics