North American grasslands continue to decline in quantity and quality. In the northern mixed-grass prairie, potential edge and fragmentation effects on grassland birds are poorly understood and conclusions are based largely on data from outside the region. Lands in and adjacent to J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge in north-central North Dakota comprise one of the largest contiguous patches of northern mixed-grass prairie remaining in North America. However, within the region, aspen (Populus tremuloides), willow (Salix spp.), and other woody species have increased, such that continued existence of grasslands is threatened. We examined how breeding grassland birds responded to habitat that has been variably fragmented by encroaching woody vegetation. The probability of occurrence decreased markedly for 11 of 15 bird species (including 3 endemic to the northern Great Plains) as percent woodland, tall shrub, or brush cover increased. Bird species were increasingly affected as the height of woody plants increased from brush to tall shrubs to trees. Grasslands became largely unsuitable for 9 species as woodland cover exceeded 25%. Derived models can be used by land managers to predict the outcome of management actions that alter plant community succession or that restore grasslands degraded by woody invasion.
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