Conspecific attraction and area sensitivity of grassland songbirds in northern tall-grass prairie
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Many grassland songbird species exhibit sensitivity to patch size in North America’s fragmented prairie ecosystems, but the mechanisms explaining this area sensitivity are not well understood. I tested the effects of patch size and artificial conspecific location cues (song playback and decoys) on grassland songbird abundance in 23 northern tall-grass prairies in Manitoba, Canada, in 2010 and 2011. Richness and relative abundances increased with patch area; this effect was not explained by differences in local habitat structure, patch configuration, and adjacent matrix. Artificial cues elicited putative territory prospecting in small, previously unoccupied treatment patches from two focal species, Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis; n=3 treatment sites) and Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii; n=4 treatment sites), but not in control patches (n=3 for both focal species). Social information may influence the focal species’ settlement decisions, but the lack of permanent settlement response suggests social cues are unable to reverse their area sensitivity.