Date: October 19, 2018
Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
The prairies of North America once covered vast stretches of land, with towering grasses creating ideal nesting and forage habitat for grassland birds. But the deep, rich soil and treeless expanse also represented the ideal conditions for farming -- both row crops and cattle grazing -- in the eyes of settlers. Today, largely thanks to agricultural conversion, a mere 1 percent of tallgrass prairie remains. And what's left is now being threatened by invasive species and forest encroachment.
"With grasslands in steep decline, the birds that depend on them are also disappearing. Therefore, it is urgent that we understand how these more recent changes -- invasive species and landscape shifts -- influence grassland bird reproduction," says Scott Maresh Nelson, a doctoral student advised by Professor Jim Miller in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (NRES) at the University of Illinois.
In a recent study published in Landscape Ecology, Maresh Nelson and his colleagues found that a common cattle forage grass, tall fescue, is associated with nest failure in dickcissels, small grassland birds similar to sparrows.