One step ahead of the plow: Using cropland conversion risk to guide Sprague's Pipit conservation in the northern Great Plains

Marisa K. Lipsey, Kevin E. Doherty, David E. Naugle, Sean Fields, Jeffrey S. Evans, Stephen K. Davis, Nicola Koper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Rapid expansion of cropland threatens grassland ecosystems across western North America and broad-scale planning can be a catalyst motivating individuals and agencies to accelerate conservation. Sprague's Pipit (Anthus spragueii) is an imperiled grassland songbird whose population has been declining rapidly in recent decades. Here, we present a strategic framework for conservation of pipits and their habitat in the northern Great Plains. We modeled pipit distribution across its million-km2 breeding range in Canada and the U.S. We describe factors shaping distribution, delineate population cores and assess vulnerability to future grassland losses. Pipits selected landscapes with a high proportion of continuous grassland within a relatively cool, moist climate. Sixty percent of the global breeding population occurred in Canada and 63% of the U.S. population occurred in Montana. Populations were highly clumped, with 75% of birds within 30% of their range. Approximately 20% of the population occurred on protected lands and over half used lands that were unlikely to be cultivated given current technologies. A quarter of pipits relied on remaining arable grasslands and potential population losses varied from 2-27% across scenarios. Most of the population (70%) was dependent on private lands, emphasizing the importance of voluntary approaches that incentivize good stewardship. Our maps depicting core populations and tillage risk enable partners to target conservation in landscapes where pipits will benefit most.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-749
Number of pages11
JournalBiological Conservation
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015


  • Agricultural conversion
  • Conservation planning
  • Cropland
  • Grassland
  • Private lands
  • Sprague's Pipit


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