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Shrubsteppe Bird Response to Habitat and Landscape Variables in Eastern Washington, USA

Category: Wildlife Research and Management - Wildlife Research

Date Published: October 1999

Number of Pages: 16

Author(s): W. Matthew Vander Haegen, Frederick C. Dobler and D. John Pierce


The landscape of the intermountain west has changed dramatically in the last 150 years, particularly in the state of Washington where over half the native shrubsteppe ecosystem has been converted to agricultural lands resulting in a fragmented landscape with few extensive tracts of shrubsteppe. We examined the historical and current distribution of shrubsteppe on different soil types in eastern Washington and we surveyed bird communities at 78 sites in shrubsteppe from 1991 to 1993. We compared abundance of species among soil types and range conditions and developed models of species occurrence using site-specific vegetation and landscape variables. The pattern of shrubsteppe conversion has resulted in a disproportionate loss of deep soil communities. Eight species showed strong relationships with soil type and three with range condition. These associations likely resulted from the influence of soil type and range history on the vegetation of these communities. Brewer's Sparrows (Spizella breweri) and Sage Sparrows (Amphispiza belli) reached their highest abundances in deep, loamy soils, whereas Loggerhead Shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus) were most abundant in deep, sandy soils. Sage Sparrows occurred more frequently in landscapes dominated by shrubsteppe, indicating a negative relationship with fragmentation. Our results suggest that fragmentation of shrubsteppe and the pattern of agricultural conversion among soil types have had detrimental effects on numerous shrubsteppe species. The landscape for species with an affinity for deep, loamy soil communities has changed considerably more than the overall loss of shrubsteppe would indicate. Conservation practices that emphasize retention of shrubsteppe communities on deep soils and that reduce further fragmentation will be critical to the maintenance of avian biological diversity in this system.

Suggested Citation:
Vander Haegen, W. M., F. C. Dobler, and D. J. Pierce. 2000. Shrubsteppe bird response to habitat and landscape variables in eastern Washington, USA. Conservation Biology 14:1145-1160.