Adaptive Management in Working Landscapes to Provide Habitat for Species of Greatest Conservation Need


Principal Investigators:

Diane M. Debinski   
James R. Miller (University of Illinois)
Walt Schacht (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
Lois Wright-Morton

Student Investigators:

David Stein (M.S.)
Callie Griffith (M.S. University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
Jaime Coon (Ph.D. University of Illinois)


November 2013 to 2018   

Funding Source(s):

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, State Wildlife Grant Comp.

Goals and Objectives:

  • We will develop and implement best management practices for reducing or eliminating invasive plant species on lands owned or managed by Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Missouri Dept. of Conservation (MDC) to improve habitat conditions for Species of Greatest Conservation Need and other grassland dependent wildlife.
  • We will engage private landowners in grassland management for benefit of Species of Greatest Conservation Need.


This project builds on an experiment that began in 2006 that was designed to compare plant, insect, and bird responses to three types of grassland management in Grand River Grasslands of southern Iowa: 1) patch-burn graze, 2) graze-and-burn, and 3) burn-only.  Twelve pastures, four of each treatment type, served as study sites in our efforts to assess the effectiveness of patch-burn grazing in improving habitat for grassland Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN).

In this new research, our goal is to test the use of adaptive management to reduce the cover of tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix Scop.) within pastures.  Tall fescue is a cool-season, high-moisture bunchgrass that was imported from Eurasia to the United States in the late 1800s for pasture improvement and erosion control.  Although tall fescue is considered a valuable forage species, it can reduce domestic livestock performance. Alkaloids produced by endophyte-infected tall fescue are of low palatability to ungulates such as cattle, deer and elk and they may be toxic to small mammals and insects. Many ground-nesting birds are unable to use tall fescue fields as foraging or nesting habitat.  The use of fire in grassland management is also complicated by the early green-up of tall fescue.

In this project the patch-burned graze pastures serve as “controls” and their responses is being compared to the graze-and-burn pastures where a Collaborative Adaptive Management (CAM) approach is employed.  On the patch-burn graze sites, no herbicides are applied.  On the graze-and-burn sites, each pasture is divided into three patches where different seed and herbicide treatments are applied.   In both the patch-bum grazing and the burn-and-graze treatments, there are two grazing regimes: intensive early stocking (IES) and conventional stocking.   Under IES, stocking density (number of cattle per unit area) is doubled and the grazing season is halved (April 1 to July 1) relative to conventional stocking.  This approach will allow us to identify best management practices capable of converting fescue-dominated pastures to more diverse native grasslands.  We expect that the highest probability of success will be accomplished by placing heavy grazing pressure on fescue early in the growing season and providing a late-season grazing deferment to benefit native warm-season grasses and forbs.  This project involves research on state-owned and privately owned lands in Iowa and Missouri.  The overall goal of CAM is to increase adaptation capacity and learning within the community of landowners and natural resource professionals. 


Future Plans:

We collaborated with Iowa DNR and Missouri Dept. of Conservation, and the Nature Conservancy to select research sites and treatments in 2014 and since then have completed three field seasons of treatments and data collection.  We have requested and were granted a no cost extension on the grant. The collaborators involved in this project are now in the process of analyzing data and writing up reports. One graduate student, David Stein, has defended a thesis associated with this research. We will meet with research partners in June, 2017 to present summary findings of this research and related work that has occurred over the past decade in the Grand River Grassland.

11/15/2013 to 05/30/2018