Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Montana Wildlife
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Montana Wildlife Project

Effects of conifer expansion and removal on songbird abundances and reproductive success in high-elevation sagebrush of Southwestern Montana

August 2018 - August 2024


Participating Agencies

  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Bureau of Land Management

Understanding the consequences of conifer removal for abundance and reproductive output of songbirds using both conifer and sagebrush habitats is needed to understand best practices for enhancing populations of all wildlife. Mountain sagebrush landscapes include other woody habitat like denser conifer stands at the periphery of conifer removal areas. Conifer removal can create artificial ‘hard’ edges that might yield high predation near the edges both inside and outside the conifer. This could even create ecological traps, where abundances are high but breeding productivity creates population sinks that yield declining populations near the edges in both habitats. We will examine: 1) abundance and reproductive output of sagebrush-obligate songbirds in sagebrush habitat in Sage-grouse core areas and including some active leks without versus with conifer removal, 2) abundance and reproductive output of conifer-dependent songbirds in adjacent conifer stands, 3) the change in songbird species composition from conifer to sagebrush habitats, and 4) impacts of distance from woody vegetation on nesting success and population trajectories (i.e., lambda) of songbirds. This information will inform the management removal of conifer trees located in stands of mountain big sagebrush habitats, and provide specific recommendations on the landscape contexts and distances from woody cover that will benefit songbirds the most.