Why are Sagebrush Songbird Communities a Concern in Wyoming?
Healthy Songbird Populations Indicate Healthy Sagebrush Ecosystems—The Brewer’s sparrow, sagebrush sparrow, and sage thrasher are songbird species that nest almost exclusively in sagebrush habitats. Stable or increasing populations of these species, therefore, indicate that their sagebrush habitats are intact and healthy. Because Wyoming encompasses some of the largest remaining areas of intact, functioning sagebrush habitat, it plays a crucial role in conserving sagebrush songbird communities.Since European settlement, however, at least 50% of North America’s sagebrush habitat has been fragmented by development and conversion to croplands. As a result, sagebrush songbird populations have been declining throughout their ranges and all three species are designated as Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. In the WLCI region, the quality of sagebrush habitats is a concern given the widespread extent of habitat conversion and alteration in sagebrush systems, in part the result of energy resource development. Energy development is suspected of contributing to songbird declines, but exactly how it may be influencing their populations is unknown.
Energy Development May Alter Nest Predator Communities in Sagebrush —USGS researchers and students from the University of Wyoming have spent the last decade establishing and monitoring songbird study sites in oil and gas production fields of the WLCI region. When landscapes are fragmented by land-uses that drastically alter the original landscape configuration and/or convert habitats from one type to another, the checks and balances that regulate populations may be upset. For sagebrush songbirds, hypothesized cause of population declines included reductions in food resources changes to the nest predator community