Population declines of grassland birds over the past 30 yr have followed the widespread implementation of intensive rangeland management practices that create homogenous grassland habitats. Patch-burn grazing (PBG) was tested as an alternative management technique that is ecologically similar to historically heterogeneous fire and grazing regimes and holds promise as a rangeland management tool that may benefit grassland wildlife. We conducted a 3-year study to compare nest-site selection and nest survival of greater prairie-chickens, an umbrella species for tallgrass prairie conservation, on private lands managed with PBG or intensive fire and grazing in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The goal of our field study was to evaluate the relationships among rangeland management practices, habitat conditions, and nesting ecology of greater prairie-chickens. Nest-site selection and nest survival of prairie-chickens were both directly related to vertical nesting cover, which was determined by the fire return interval of a pasture. Nesting habitat was affected little by stocking rate in PBG management regimes because preferred nest sites were unburned patches that were not grazed by cattle. Overall, the quantity and quality of nesting sites was improved under PBG management when compared with more intensive rangeland management regimes. Our results join a growing body of evidence that rangeland management strategies that mimic historical heterogeneous fire and grazing regimes benefit native species of prairie wildlife.
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Vol. 68 • No. 3