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No-till soybean fields used by birds


Ellen Paul

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http://phys.org/news/2014-01-no-till-soybean-fields-rare-birds.html

 

Excerpts:

 

Researchers report in a new study that several bird species – some of them relatively rare – are making extensive use of soybean fields in Illinois. The team found significantly more birds and a greater diversity of bird species nesting, roosting and feeding in no-till soybean fields than in tilled fields.
 

A paper describing the research appears in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment.

"I was surprised to see all the different birds that are using these agricultural fields – especially during spring migration," said Kelly VanBeek, a wildlife biologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources who conducted the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I was shocked by the variety of sparrow species that we saw – white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows, for example."

Some of the birds using no-till fields are grassland species that have been in decline across the Midwest for decades, said Michael Ward, a professor of natural resources and environmental sciences at Illinois and an author of the study. One species found nesting in a no-till soybean field, the upland sandpiper, was an exciting find.

 

The study adds to the evidence that agricultural practices can have a broad influence on bird abundance and diversity, said natural resources and environmental sciences professor and department head Jeffrey Brawn, a co-author of the study.

"Generally row crops are not good for wildlife," Brawn said. "They're just not. But this paper shows that in situ agricultural production – depending on how you do it – can have some benefits for wildlife."

The team also found other grassland species that are in decline – Eastern meadowlarks, ring-necked pheasants and field sparrows – nesting in no-till fields.

The study points to a major opportunity for bird conservation, Ward said. Rather than buying up modest tracts of land for wildlife preservation, an approach that is minimally effective, he said, farmers and conservationists could work together to maximize the ecological role that no-till lands are already playing in the Midwest.

If farmers could be convinced to plant their soybeans a few days later in the spring, for example, it would increase the nesting success of several bird species that are out there now, Ward said. A pilot program in Indiana is testing this approach, compensating farmers for losses that stem from the planting delay, he said.

"There's so much land in agriculture that if only 3 or 4 percent of farmers adopted this approach, it would have a greater effect than all the land that we have in wildlife preserves in Illinois," he said.

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