US Geological Survey



Date of this Version



PLOS ONE | January 9, 2019 1 / 17


U.S. Government


Birds are essential components of most ecosystems and provide many services valued by society. However, many populations have undergone striking declines as their habitats have been lost or degraded by human activities. Terrestrial grasslands are vital habitat for birds in the North American Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), but grassland conversion and fragmentation from agriculture and energy-production activities have destroyed or degraded millions of hectares. Conservation grasslands can provide alternate habitat. In the United States, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is the largest program maintaining conservation grasslands on agricultural lands, but conservation grasslands in the PPR have declined by over 1 million ha since the program’s zenith in 2007. We used an ecosystemservices model (InVEST) parameterized for the PPR to quantify grassland-bird habitat remaining in 2014 and to assess the degradation status of the remaining grassland-bird habitat as influenced by crop and energy (i.e., oil, natural gas, and wind) production. We compared our resultant habitat-quality ratings to grassland-bird abundance data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey to confirm that ratings were related to grassland-bird abundance. Of the grassland-bird habitat remaining in 2014, about 19% was degraded by crop production that occurred within 0.1 km of grassland habitats, whereas energy production degraded an additional 16%. We further quantified the changes in availability of grasslandbird habitat under various land-cover scenarios representing incremental losses (10%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100%) of CRP grasslands from 2014 levels. Our model identified 1 million ha (9%) of remaining grassland-bird habitat in the PPR that would be lost or degraded if all CRP conservation grasslands were returned to crop production. Grassland regions world-wide face similar challenges in maintaining avian habitat in the face of increasing commodity and energy production to sate the food and energy needs of a growing world population. Identifying ways to model the impacts of the tradeoff between food and energy production and wildlife production is an important step in creating solutions.