Ground nesting birds in roadside borders of the Argentine Pampas: habitat use and predation risk of artificial nests
Habitat loss and fragmentation have led to grassland bird declines, with ground nesters particularly vulnerable. Roadsides could provide habitat, although their suitability depends on several roadside and field characteristics. Vegetation structure determines foraging and nesting site availability. In addition, road delimits sharp edges where the activity of nest predators is usually higher, whereas herbaceous vegetation determines ground nest concealment. Trees could provide lookouts to predators, and modified habitat and woodlands in surrounding fields could offer additional resources to predators. Our objective was to assess habitat suitability for ground nester birds in roadsides belonging to one modified grassland of the Argentine Pampas. We surveyed birds (90 plots) and monitored artificial nests (60 plots) in different road types: unpaved, paved of one-lane per side, and paved of two-lanes per side. Within each road type, we evaluated the relationship that ground nesters abundance had with vegetation structure of roadsides and surrounding fields. In addition, we related predation of artificial nests with the proximity to the road, roadside vegetation, and modified land and woodlands of surrounding fields. We made 2832 records of 84 species using roadsides, including 1083 records of 13 ground nesting species. Abundance of ground nesters increased with tall grass cover of roadsides and decreased with the number of native trees within roadsides. Roughly half (31/60) of the artificial nests were predated and 82.6% of the identified egg-marks were of mammal teeth. Nest predation decreased with nest proximity to the road. Our results emphasize the importance of tall grass cover of roadsides for the conservation of ground nesting species, and the necessity of monitoring natural nests in order to clarify the effect of trees, proximity to the road, and other environmental variables on nest success.
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