Predator identity influences the effect of habitat management on nest predation

Timothy P. Lyons, James R. Miller, Diane M. Debinski, David M. Engle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Predation is the leading cause of nest failure for many passerines and considerable effort is devoted to identifying the habitat characteristics and management practices that influence nest loss. The habitat components associated with nest loss are strongly influenced by the ecology of nest predators and differ among predator species as a result. Nevertheless, there is a tendency to generalize about the effects of habitat features and management on nest failure without considering how resulting patterns are influenced by nest predators. We examined how predator-specific patterns of nest loss differed among predators and in response to grassland management with fire and grazing by cattle (Bos taurus). We used video cameras to monitor and identify predators at nests of the Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), a species of conservation concern throughout its range. We observed predation by 15 different species that differed in their response to management and the habitat characteristics associated with nests they preyed on. Losses to mammals and snakes were more likely at nests with greater amounts of litter cover and tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix). Mammals were less likely to prey on nests surrounded by greater forb cover. Nest predation by snakes was lower in burned areas, whereas predation by mammals and Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) was unaffected by the use of fire. Neither vegetation density at the nest, nor landscape context was related to nest loss by any predator taxon. Although there were many similarities, we identified important differences in the species composing the nest predator community between our study and other published research. These differences are likely to be responsible for geographic variation in the influence of habitat features and management actions on nest success. Our results demonstrate the need for natural resource managers to incorporate knowledge of local nest predators and their ecology when developing management prescriptions aimed at enhancing the reproductive success of songbirds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1596-1605
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Ammodramus savannarum
  • Cause-specific mortality
  • Fire
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Grassland
  • Grazing
  • Habitat management
  • Nest camera
  • Nest loss
  • Predator identification
  • Ringgold County, Iowa, USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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