Understanding the influences of habitat fragmentation on vertebrate populations is essential for the protection and ecological restoration of strategic sites for native species. We examined the effects of prairie fragmentation on avian reproductive success using artificial and natural nests on 26 randomly selected, privately owned patches of shortgrass prairie ranging in size from 7 to 454 ha within a cropland matrix in Washington County, Colorado, summer 2000. Survival trends of artificial and natural nests differed. Daily survival of artificial nests increased with patch size up to about 65 ha and differed little at larger patch sizes, whereas daily survival of Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys) and Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) nests decreased with increasing size of the grassland patch. We hypothesize that our unexpected findings of lower survival of natural nests with increasing patch sizes and different trends between artificial and natural nests are due to the particular structure of predator communities in our study area and the ways in which individual predators respond to artificial and natural nests. We recommend that the value of small habitat patches in highly fragmented landscapes not be overlooked.
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