Effects of temperature and precipitation on grassland bird nesting success as mediated by patch size
Grassland birds are declining faster than any other bird guild across North America. Shrinking ranges and population declines are attributed to widespread habitat loss and increasingly fragmented landscapes of agriculture and other land uses that are misaligned with grassland bird conservation. Concurrent with habitat loss and degradation, temperate grasslands have been disproportionally affected by climate change relative to most other terrestrial biomes. Distributions of grassland birds often correlate with gradients in climate, but few researchers have explored the consequences of weather on the demography of grassland birds inhabiting a range of grassland fragments. To do so, we modeled the effects of temperature and precipitation on nesting success rates of 12 grassland bird species inhabiting a range of grassland patches across North America (21,000 nests from 81 individual studies). Higher amounts of precipitation in the preceding year were associated with higher nesting success, but wetter conditions during the active breeding season reduced nesting success. Extremely cold or hot conditions during the early breeding season were associated with lower rates of nesting success. The direct and indirect influence of temperature and precipitation on nesting success was moderated by grassland patch size. The positive effects of precipitation in the preceding year on nesting success were strongest in relatively small grassland patches and had little effect in large patches. Conversely, warm temperatures reduced nesting success in small grassland patches but increased nesting success in large patches. Mechanisms underlying these differences may be patch-size-induced variation in microclimates and predator activity. Although the exact cause is unclear, large grassland patches, the most common metric of grassland conservation, appears to moderate the effects of weather on grassland-bird demography and could be an effective component of climate-change adaptation.