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

Perlut, N. G., A. M. Strong, T. M. Donovan, and N. J. Buckley. 2008. Grassland songbird survival and recruitment in heterogeneous agricultural landscapes: implications for source-sink demography. Ecology 89:1941-1952.


Population growth and decline are particularly sensitive to changes in three key life-history parameters: annual productivity, juvenile survival, and adult survival. However, for many species these parameters remain unknown. For example, although grassland songbirds are imperiled throughout North America, for this guild, only a small number of studies have assessed these parameters. From 2002 to 2006, in the agricultural landscape of the Champlain Valley of Vermont and New York, USA, we studied Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) and Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) demography on four grassland treatments: (1) early-hayed fields cut before 11 June and again in early- to mid-July; (2) middle-hayed fields cut once between 21 June and 10 July; (3) late-hayed fields cut after 1 August; and (4) rotationally grazed pastures. We assessed whether these treatments affected adult apparent survival (phi) and recruitment (f), how sensitive these parameters were to the presence of nonbreeders and local dispersal, and the populations' ability to persist in these four habitats. On average, birds using late-hayed fields had >25% higher apparent survival than those on the more intensively managed early-hayed, middle-hayed, and grazed fields. Overall male phi was 35% higher than female phi, and Savannah Sparrow phi was 44% higher than Bobolink phi. Across all analyses and treatments, apparent survival estimates were 0.58–0.85 for male and 0.48–0.71 for female Savannah Sparrows, and 0.52–0.70 for male and 0.19–0.55 for female Bobolinks. For males of both species, potential nonbreeders decreased the precision of and lowered apparent survival estimates by 25%; female estimates showed little variation with the inclusion of nonbreeders. Inclusion of local dispersal observations increased apparent survival estimates and, in many cases, increased precision, though the effect was stronger for Savannah Sparrows than for Bobolinks, and also stronger for males than for females. High Savannah Sparrow apparent survival rates resulted in stable or near stable populations (λ ≈ 1), particularly in late-hayed and grazed fields, while low Bobolink apparent survival rates resulted in strongly declining populations (λ < 1) in all treatments.