Plant invasions alter settlement patterns of breeding grassland birds

Erik M. Andersen, Robert J. Steidl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Animals have evolved strategies to identify areas that provide the resources and environmental conditions they need to survive and reproduce. To explore how invasions by nonnative plants might disrupt this fundamental process, we evaluated settlement patterns of migratory birds that breed in grasslands being invaded by two structurally different congeneric grasses. We established 40, 2.25-ha plots across an area where the composition of each nonnative grass ranged from 0% to nearly 100% of total grass cover, which provided individuals with the full range of alternatives in species composition. We then used the temporal sequence by which birds established territories to infer their habitat preferences. We evaluated responses of the most common species that settled the area, two confamilial sparrows that differed markedly in habitat breadth. The species with narrower habitat breadth, the grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum ammolegus), first established territories in areas dominated by native grasses, where grass height and cover were substantially lower than in areas dominated by the nonnative grasses. As the settlement period progressed, they increasingly established territories in areas dominated by the smaller nonnative grass (Eragrostis lehmanniana), but never established territories in areas dominated by the larger grass (E. curvula). In contrast, the species with broader habitat breadth, the Botteri's sparrow (Peucaea botterii arizonae), established territories without regard to grass composition, likely because both nonnative grasses were within the structural range of native grasses used by this grassland generalist. Our results demonstrate that in areas invaded by nonnative plants, changes in habitat use by animals can reflect the interaction between their habitat breadth and the amount of structural contrast between invading plants and the native plant species that are displaced. This interaction provides a mechanism to explain the variation in responses among species to invasions by nonnative plants, which has consequences for broad-scale changes in the geographic distribution of many species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03012
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • arrival date
  • exotic species
  • grasslands
  • habitat preferences
  • habitat selection
  • nonnative grasses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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