Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Dr. Elmer Finck
Great Plains grasslands were once one of the largest ecosystems in North America. However, farming, ranching, urban development, widespread fire suppression, and numerous other factors have created a great loss of this habitat in central North America. Organisms that depend on that habitat, such as grassland nesting birds, also have declined. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which was established in 1985, paid landowners to remove land with highly erodible soils from production and plant it with perennial vegetation. Increases in CRP acreages brought about increases in numbers of several bird species that were in decline before the program existed. Prescribed burning is a management tool that has been used extensively in the tallgrass prairie to set back succession. The effects of prescribed burning on grassland nesting birds in the tallgrass prairie are well documented. Research shows some species to be more abundant in areas that have been burned recently, while others are more abundant in less disturbed grasslands. However, limited research has been conducted on the effects of prescribed burning on grassland nesting birds in the mixed grass prairie ecosystem. The objectives of my research were to assess the effects of prescribed burning on vegetation, nest site selection and nest success, brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater) brood parasitism of grassland birds, and on insect biomass on CRP stands in the mixed grass prairie region of western Kansas. My research took place during the breeding seasons of 2008 and 2009. In 2008, I monitored 80 nests from 9 avian species in burned and unburned areas of CRP. In 2009, I monitored 109 nests from 7 avian species on burned, unburned, and one year post burned areas of CRP. The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) was the most abundant species observed in both years of research. My results showed no significant difference in nest density and daily survival probability of grassland nesting birds on burned and unburned areas in 2008 and burned, unburned, and one year post burned areas in 2009. Brown-headed cowbird brood parasitism was not detected in 2008 and only occurred in 2 nests in 2009. A significant difference was observed in insect biomass between the months of June, July, and August for both 2008 and 2009 with biomass greatest in August. A significant difference in insect biomass also occurred between burned, unburned, and one year post burned areas in 2009 with biomass greatest in unburned areas. However, no significant difference occurred in insect biomass between burned and unburned treatments in 2008. Significant differences in vegetation characteristics also occurred between burned and unburned areas in 2008, and among burned, unburned, and one year post burned areas in 2009. A significant difference in vegetation characteristics between nest sites and random points was also observed in 2008 with percentages of forbs being greater on random sites. This difference was not observed in 2009, however. My results indicated prescribed burning had no effect on nest density or daily survival probability of grassland nesting birds. However, burning did have a significant difference on vegetation characteristics and might have contributed to differences in insect biomass. Thus, prescribed burning is a management tool that can be used to interrupt succession and create heterogeneity on the landscape. However, more research should be conducted on the effects of prescribed burning on vegetation, insects, and grassland nesting birds in the mixed grass prairie.
Copyright 2011 Justin V. Hamilton
Hamilton, Justin Vern, "Effects Of Prescribed Burning On Grassland Nesting Birds On Conservation Reserve Program Areas In Gove County, Kansas" (2011). Master's Theses. 146.