Invasive forage grass leads to grassland bird decline

ScienceDaily | 10/19/2018 | Staff
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"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.

Name - Fescue - Lot - Grasses - Landscape

"Despite its name, tall fescue is actually a lot shorter than native grasses. It takes over and makes the landscape more uniform," says Jaime Coon, also a doctoral student in Miller's group and a co-author on the study. "Whereas the vegetation was very structurally diverse before, with some tall plants and some short, now you have a mat. It changes the vegetation structure quite a bit."

In their Iowa-based study, the researchers identified all the plants within a 16-foot radius of every dickcissel nest they found -- all 477 of them -- and the more tall fescue there was, the greater the chances of nest failure. No other plant in their surveys had significant predictive power.

Fescue - Effects - Part - Fescue - Plant

"We were interested that tall fescue had such strong ecological effects, in part because fescue is a very polarizing plant," Coon says.

Her comment is based on extensive landowner surveys in the area, which revealed that while some respondents liked a high abundance of fescue, a majority would prefer less fescue on pasture land. Although it is palatable and drought tolerant, the grass hosts a fungus that can stress grazing cattle.

Fact - Fescue - Drivers - Failure

"The fact that fescue came out as one of the main drivers of nest failure means it might be a...
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