Effects of oil development on habitat quality and its perception by mixed-grass prairie songbirds

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Des Brisay, Paulson G.
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Oil development has altered mixed-grass prairies in south-eastern Alberta, potentially impacting habitat quality and suitability for grassland birds. I tested whether three passerines can accurately assess habitat quality in the presence of this anthropogenic disturbance. I monitored nesting success and stress hormones and tested for differences in settlement patterns at sites impacted by real oil infrastructure, simulated noise, and control sites. Corticosterone levels suggested that habitat quality was reduced in some cases by disturbance. I also found disturbance impacted perceived habitat quality; however, perceived and realized quality were not always affected similarly. Both Chestnut-collared Longspurs and Savannah Sparrows exhibited stress near infrastructure, but higher-quality Longspur females nested near infrastructure while Savannah Sparrows avoided it. This mismatch may help explain why species suffer disproportionately in response to disturbances. Managers should reduce human presence by concentrating above-ground infrastructure using directional drilling, decommissioning old well heads, reclaiming roads, and reducing traffic.
Oil development, Conservation, Corticosterone, Habitat quality, Grassland songbirds