Information on area sensitivity and effects of habitat fragmentation has come largely from forest and tallgrass-prairie habitats. Research from other ecosystems is required to determine whether the fragmentation paradigm derived from those studies is applicable to passerine communities elsewhere. I examined the effects of habitat fragmentation on abundance and occurrence of nine species of mixed-grass prairie passerines in southern Saskatchewan. I conducted 190 point-counts in 1996 and 1997 on 89 pastures ranging in size from 8 to 6,475 ha. Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii), Baird's Sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), Grasshopper Sparrow (A. savannarum), and Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) were found to be area-sensitive, in that they were more abundant or occurred more frequently, or both, in larger patches of mixed-grass prairie. However, the ratio of edge to interior habitat was a better predictor of area sensitivity than patch size in most cases. Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida), Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), and Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) were insensitive to patch size, though occurrence of Clay-colored Sparrow and Western Meadowlark tended to be greater in smaller pastures. Vegetation structure was also found to be an important predictor of grassland songbird abundance and occurrence, in that it explained additional variation not accounted for by patch size or the ratio of edge to interior habitat. Although protection of large contiguous tracts of habitat is essential to conservation of native species, small native-prairie patches with minimal edge habitat also play a vital role in conservation of grassland birds.
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Vol. 121 • No. 4