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Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory

Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Dean

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Justin Shew

Advisor: Dr. Clayton K. Nielsen and Dr. Donald Sparling

Avian response to mid-contract management practices on native and smooth brome grasslands within the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) of Illinois

Many North American bird species associated with grassland/shrub and savanna habitats have been declining precipitously for the past several decades. These declines are likely attributed to a combination of factors such as the loss of historic ecological disturbances, namely fire and grazing, which previously maintained grasslands, and the loss of habitat to development, mostly agricultural, in both breeding and overwintering grounds.

Approximately 4% of native tallgrass prairie remains from presettlement time which was the dominant grassland throughout Illinois. Today, agriculture represents more than 80% of the state's land use leaving less than 1% native tallgrass prairie. However, federal programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) appear to alleviate some species declines and positively influence population increases for species such as the Henslow's sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii). However, the suspected northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) and ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) response have not been clear. Originally, CRP was initiated in 1985 to halt excessive soil erosion, improve water quality, and reduce crop production, but the additional benefit to wildlife through semi-permanent vegetation field conversion was quickly realized. However, over time, without disturbance many CRP field become less valuable to wildlife that depend early successional habitat. In 2004 mid-contract management was mandated on new CRP contracts to improve early successional habitat for wildlife.

Our study will focus on avian response to different mid-contract management practices within CRP fields dominated by smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and mixed warm-season grasses. In addition, we will model avian response at multiple scales including micro (field vegetation level), macro (coarse field characteristics), and landscape (cover type percentages and fragmentation) level scales.

Prior Education

B.S., Truman State University

M.S., Missouri State University