The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was designed to reduce soil erosion and curb agricultural overproduction by converting highly erodible agricultural land to various forms of perennial habitat. It has had an incidental benefit of providing habitat for wildlife and has been beneficial in reversing population declines of several grassland bird species. However, the mechanisms behind these reversals remain unknown. One such mechanism may be differences in food availability on CRP vs. non-CRP land or between different types of CRP. The influence of CRP habitat type on the abundance of arthropod prey used by grassland birds has not been previously explored. We compared the abundance and diversity of arthropods among four CRP habitat types in Texas [replicated plots of exotic lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), Old World bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum), mixed native grasses with buffalograss (Buchloë dactyloides) and mixed native grasses without buffalograss] and native shortgrass prairie. Attention was focused on adult and juvenile spiders (Order Araneae), beetles (Coleoptera), orthopterans (Orthroptera: grasshoppers and crickets) and lepidopterans (Lepidoptera: butterflies and moths), as these taxa are the primary prey items of grassland birds during the breeding season. Arthropod diversity and abundance were higher on indigenous prairie compared to CRP, reflecting differences in vegetative diversity and structure, but there were no differences in arthropod richness or abundance among CRP types. These results indicate that, although CRP is not equivalent to native prairie in terms of vegetation or arthropod diversity, CRP lands do support arthropod prey for grassland birds. More direct assays of the survivorship and fitness of birds on CRP compared to native shortgrass prairie are clearly warranted.
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Vol. 150 • No. 2