Geographical patterns in openland cover and hayfield mowing in the Upper Great Lakes region: Implications for grassland bird conservation

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Populations of many grassland bird species such as Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Henslow's Sparrow (A. henslowii), and Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) have experienced considerable declines over the last century. To foster multi-species grassland bird conservation in the Upper Great Lakes (UGL) states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, we quantified geographic patterns within three sub-regional zones (e.g., North, Central, and South) of the UGL. Patterns of interest included the distribution and abundance of openland cover type (including managed pasture-hayland), the distribution, phenology, habitat affinity, and long-term population trends of ten grassland bird species, and (in particular) the geographic patterns in hayfield mowing and the temporal changes in hayfield cover. Approximately 10, 38, and 53% of the UGL openland was proportioned in the North, Central, and South zones, respectively. The distribution of hayland also varied by zone: North, 17%; Central, 46%; and South, 37%. In the central portion of the UGL where the greatest area is devoted to hay production, alfalfa-more intensively managed than mixed-grass hay-predominates. Although we found significance differences (P < 0.05) in hayfield mowing intensity between zones (with the majority of land under relatively low-intensity mowing found in the North Zone, particularly the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) no strong relationships were found between hayfield mowing patterns, other land cover-land use variables, and bird population trends at finer scales of study. Nonetheless, we suggest that the geographic patterns illustrated here provide useful information for grassland bird conservation planning across the UGL.

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Landscape Ecology