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Multi-scale habitat selection by a cryptic, critically endangered grassland bird—The Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus): Implications for habitat management and conservation

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posted on 2022-05-20, 05:59 authored by Daniel NugentDaniel Nugent, David Baker-GabbDavid Baker-Gabb, Peter GreenPeter Green, B Ostendorf, F Dawlings, RH Clarke, John MorganJohn Morgan
Our understanding of the habitat needs of grassland fauna is often incomplete because of their cryptic behaviour. This presents a barrier to identifying important habitat attributes, whether these change at different spatial scales, and how this informs management decisions. Here, we use a critically endangered bird, the Plains-wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus, Pedionomidae), as an exemplar of the challenge of managing grasslands for cryptic species. Until now, almost all ecological knowledge of Plains-wanderers has come from the detection of nocturnally roosting individuals and habitat assessments at fine-scales that indicate open swards are preferred habitat. We GPS-tracked 13 adult Plains-wanderers to better understand diurnal habitat utilization in native grasslands of south-eastern Australia. Using these data, we assessed whether Plains-wanderers select for different habitat attributes during the day and night, and whether this varied according to spatial scale. At the fine-scale (< 1 ha), daytime foraging occurred in denser swards than those of nocturnal roosting sites. At the patch-scale (1–50 ha), Plains-wanderers selected for denser vegetation, with higher grass and lichen cover, whilst avoiding areas where structure was impacted by a high exotic plant cover. Plains-wanderers did not select habitat based on grassland type at the landscape-scale (>100 ha). We demonstrate that Plains-wanderers require grasslands with both open and denser swards to support foraging and roosting. In doing so, we address the biases associated with habitat assessments based on roost-only locations and extend known habitat associations critical to the successful management of the species. Our findings highlight that a precautionary approach to the classification of habitat requirements is warranted when uncertainty around habitat use of cryptic grassland fauna exists.


This research was funded by Birdlife Australia, Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.


Publication Date



Austral Ecology






(p. 698-712)





Rights Statement

© 2022 The Authors. Austral Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd on behalf of Ecological Society of Australia. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.