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Data from: Restoring fire to grasslands is critical for migrating shorebird populations

Citation

Hovick, Torre J. et al. (2017), Data from: Restoring fire to grasslands is critical for migrating shorebird populations, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.1768j

Abstract

Fire is a disturbance process that maintains the structure and function of grassland ecosystems while sustaining grassland biodiversity. Conversion of grasslands to other land uses coupled with altered disturbance regimes have greatly diminished the habitat available to many grassland dependent species. These changes have been linked to declines in breeding bird populations, but may also be critical for migrating bird populations such as those shorebird species that depend on mesic grasslands during migration. We examined migratory shorebird use of burned grasslands in the southern Great Plains of North America using DISTANCE sampling to estimate and compare bird densities across recently burned and not recently burned landscapes (1-5 years post fire). We conducted two surveys per week for 8-10 weeks along a 54 km route starting at the end of March and concluding in mid-May during 2014-2015. We encountered 2,509 total shorebirds in recently burned areas compared to 130 individuals in areas that were unburned. Fire was a major attractant for our three focal species with American golden-plover (Pluvialis dominica), upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda), and killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) densities of 20.48, 11.09, and 26.09 birds per km2 in burned areas compared with 0.00, 1.27, and 0.92 birds per km2 in unburned areas, respectively. This research illustrates the importance of burned grassland for migrating shorebirds, a phenomenon that has largely gone unreported previously. Generally, these findings add to a body of knowledge that demonstrates the value of managing grasslands with historic disturbances that vary over space and time. The application of these findings should improve decision-making for shorebird conservation and provides evidence that prescribed fire planning should include consideration for breeding, transient, and non-breeding populations that vary in their temporal use of the landscape.

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