Tag: Chris Helzer Prairie Ecologist

Why Grassland Birds are Poor Indicators of Prairie Quality

Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of birds. 

I really enjoyed working on my graduate research, which focused on grassland birds and their vulnerability to prairie fragmentation.

I also think birds are generally pretty and interesting.

However, the truth is that prairie birds make up only a tiny percentage of the species in prairies (most of which are invertebrates, followed by plants).

Still, grassland birds are often held up as indicators of whether or not a prairie – or a prairie landscape – is “healthy” or “high quality.”

A common refrain in prairie conservation goes something like this; “If we have our full complement of grassland birds in this prairie and/or landscape, it’s a good bet that all the other species are also doing well.”

Unfortunately, while prairie birds are relatively easy to study and monitor, they may not do a good job of reflecting how the rest of the prairie is doing.  Let’s look at some of the most important attributes of prairies and some of their major threats – and consider how well birds correlate with them.

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