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Grassland birds are one of the most endangered taxa in temperate North America. Because many species declines have been linked to habitat fragmentation and loss, large-scale prairie restoration projects have the potential to provide critical habitat for these declining species. We examined how the structure of restored grassland habitat changes through time and how diversity and community composition of grassland birds respond to these changes. Our study was completed at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, a large-scale prairie restoration in central Iowa. Vegetation composition and structure were measured at 42 restored grassland plots throughout the refuge in 2007. Birds were surveyed at these locations from 1994 to 2007. Survey points were sorted into five categories (out of crop rotation for 1, 2, 3, 4–6, and > 6 y). In the initial phases of restoration, species such as horned larks, red-winged blackbirds, and killdeer were abundant. Other species such as common yellowthroats and dickcissels were more common in established restored points. Henslow’s sparrows appeared only at survey points that were out of crop rotation for more than 6 years. Diversity peaked in survey points that were 2–3 years out of crop rotation and points that were more than 6 years out of rotation. Community composition shifted through the chronosequence of prairie plantings. Changes in diversity and shifts in community composition can be explained by changes in vegetative structure. Our results suggest that managing for a variety of restored prairie stages will best maintain the highest levels of avian diversity and abundance.
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Olechnowski, Brian Frederick; Debinski, Diane M.; Drobney, Pauline; Viste-Sparkman, Karen; and Reed, William T., "Changes in Vegetation Structure through Time in a Restored Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystem and Implications for Avian Diversity and Community Composition" (2009). Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Publications. 28.