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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Strategies for Reducing the Vulnerability of Grassland Birds to Climate Change within the Central Flyway

Project Leader:
Project Investigators:
Christine Ribic
Neal Niemuth
In Progress


Prairies were once widespread across North America, but are now one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the world. Agriculture and residential development have reduced once extensive prairies into a patchwork of remnant prairies and “surrogate” grasslands (e.g., hayfields, planted pastures). Grassland ecosystems and many grassland-dependent birds are also particularly vulnerable to rapid shifts in climate and associated changes in drought and extreme weather.   The Central Flyway is a vast bird migration route that comprises more than half of the continental U.S., and extends from Central America to Canada, and harbors the greatest diversity of grassland birds in North America. Throughout this region, numerous agencies and organizations are entrusted with the management of grassland ecosystems and the species that depend on them in landscapes extensively altered by human activities. Today, they face the additional challenge of managing these ecosystems in the face of a rapidly changing climate.  

The goal of this project is to synthesize the vulnerability of grassland ecosystems to climate change across the Central Flyway, with an emphasis on grassland-dependent migratory birds. Researchers will synthesize the state of the science, including providing a robust assessment of how climate variables directly and indirectly (via land use change) affect grassland habitats and migratory bird populations. Researchers will also review current and future adaptation strategies for the conservation of grassland ecosystems and grassland-dependent birds.

This effort will result in a synthesis of key management strategies and future research needs related to the conservation of migratory grassland bird populations in the Central Flyway in the face of climate change.