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1 October 2010 Avian Response to Mid-contract Management of Conservation Reserve Program Fields
Lucas P. Negus, Craig A. Davis, Scott E. Wessel
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Throughout the Midwestern U.S., grassland birds have been declining faster than any other group of birds, with the main cause for these declines being the extensive loss of native prairies. During the last 25 y, surrogate grasslands, such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, have become increasingly important as an alternative habitat for grassland birds. However, many CRP grasslands that once provided excellent habitat are now dominated by monculture stands of grass, resulting in a less diverse habitat that has reduced wildlife benefits. In summer 2002, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Pheasants Forever partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resource Conservation Service to initiate a program that promotes disking and interseeding legumes as a mid-contract management practice in CRP fields. The objectives of this study were to determine grassland bird abundance and nest-productivity in disked and interseeded CRP fields and evaluate vegetative responses to disking and interseeding. We conducted our study on 16 CRP fields in Stanton County, Nebraska where we used fixed transects to determine avian species richness and abundance and nest-searched twelve 4-ha plots to determine nest productivity in treatment (managed by disking and interseeding) and reference (unmanaged) CRP fields. We also recorded vegetation characteristics along each transect and at each nest. Overall abundance in treatment fields was 4.49 ± 0.25 (se) birds/transect compared to 2.93 ± 0.21 birds/transect in reference fields. Species richness and diversity were also higher in treatment fields. There was no difference in nest density or nest success between treatment and reference fields. Treatment field vegetation had higher percentages of forbs and bare ground than reference sites. Maximum vegetation height and horizontal visual obstruction were also higher in treatment sites. To accommodate the most grassland bird species in CRP fields, management of CRP fields should include establishing an annual rotation of disking/interseeding, while leaving portions of fields in mature grass stands. Future research should focus on methods that will increase the longevity of the vegetation effects of disking/interseeding legumes.

Lucas P. Negus, Craig A. Davis, and Scott E. Wessel "Avian Response to Mid-contract Management of Conservation Reserve Program Fields," The American Midland Naturalist 164(2), 296-310, (1 October 2010).
Received: 19 June 2009; Accepted: 1 February 2010; Published: 1 October 2010

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