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21 January 2015 Oil and natural gas development has mixed effects on the density and reproductive success of grassland songbirds
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Abstract

Oil and natural gas development has increased dramatically in native grasslands over the past 25 years. Some grassland songbirds are less abundant in areas with oil and gas development, but the effects vary among species and geographically within a species' range. The reproductive consequences of nesting in areas with oil and gas development are unknown. We assessed how the density and reproductive success of five species of grassland songbird in Alberta, Canada, varied with distance to oil and gas wells, gravel roads, and trails, and cover of crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), an aggressive alien plant that often becomes established following anthropogenic disturbance. Crested wheatgrass cover had the greatest impact on the grassland songbird community. Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii) nest survival decreased as the amount of crested wheatgrass increased. As crested wheatgrass cover increased from 0% to 60%, density of Savannah Sparrows (Passerculus sandwichensis) declined by 50%, but they fledged 25% more young from successful nests. Density of Savannah Sparrows was twice as high near wells, and fledging success was 40% higher compared with 700 m away. Distance to gravel roads did not influence the density or reproductive success of any species. Sprague's Pipits and Baird's Sparrows (Ammodramus bairdii) avoided nesting within 100 m of trails, and both species fledged fewer young from successful nests near trails. In contrast, Vesper Sparrows (Pooecetes gramineus) nested close to trails and fledged more young from successful nests near trails. Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) were not strongly affected by any variable. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) abundance was three times higher in study plots with wells, although we detected no associated increase in brood parasitism. Our results indicate that the introduction and spread of crested wheatgrass and the creation of access trails to well pads have negative reproductive consequences for primary endemic species such as Sprague's Pipit and Baird's Sparrow, although these results do not extend to other grassland birds. The spread of crested wheatgrass and the disturbance of access trails could be reduced by directional drilling of multiple wells from a single well pad.

Sarah M. Ludlow, R. Mark Brigham, and Stephen K. Davis "Oil and natural gas development has mixed effects on the density and reproductive success of grassland songbirds," The Condor 117(1), (21 January 2015). https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-14-79.1
Received: 16 May 2014; Accepted: 1 November 2014; Published: 21 January 2015
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