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Effects of Disturbance Associated with Natural Gas Extraction on the Occurrence of Three Grassland Songbirds

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Author(s): Laura E. Hamilton | Brenda C. Dale | Cynthia A. Paszkowski

Journal: Avian Conservation and Ecology
ISSN 1712-6568

Volume: 6;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 7;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: anthropogenic disturbance | Chestnut-collared Longspur | grassland | modeling | natural gas | Savannah Sparrow | Sprague’s Pipit

ABSTRACT
Despite declines in the grassland bird guild and increasing rates of natural gas extraction on the Canadian prairies, relatively few studies have examined the effects of well sites and related infrastructure on these species. We conducted point counts on Canadian Forces Base Suffield, Alberta to investigate the effects of two well densities (high: 16 wells/2.59km², low: 9 wells/2.59km²) on Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus), and Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii) occurrence and abundance. Additionally, model building was employed to determine if landscape features, i.e., soil type, elevation, and topography, along with well density and anthropogenic disturbance to natural vegetation, i.e., the combined areas affected by wells, pipelines, trails, and roads, could predict the occurrence of the three species. For Savannah Sparrows, occurrence and abundance were higher in areas with high well densities compared with low well densities, reflecting the species’ general tolerance of human disturbances. Chestnut-collared Longspurs were ubiquitous in the study area and abundance was not related to well density. Models for this species performed poorly and failed to predict occurrence accurately. Models for Sprague’s Pipit were the strongest and showed that this species’ occurrence was negatively related to anthropogenic disturbance. For all three species, landscape features had low predictive power. Our results indicate that disturbance caused by well sites and related infrastructure affect occurrence of some species and should be incorporated into conservation strategies for grassland birds, especially as undisturbed grasslands become candidates for energy development.
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