Incorporating Soil Ecological Knowlege into Management of CRP Lands

Mid-contract management on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) seeks to mimic the natural disturbance regimes (e.g., fires) that were once common in the Great Plains, but are now largely repressed by humans. The goal of mid-contract management is to increase the abundance of ground-dwelling macro-invertebrates, increase forbs, increase overall plant diversity, and increase bare ground—all of which are essential to quality upland game bird habitat. However, these different types of disturbances often have unintended consequences beyond enhancing bird habitat.

Disentangling and quantifying the tradeoffs in different mid-contract management strategies will allow private landowners and federal and state personnel to better navigate the delicate task of balancing management goals (e.g., cost of implementation, bird production and/or soil quality). For example, if a mid-contract management strategy imparts concurrent benefits to bird populations, soil quality, plant communities and invertebrates, its true value to management may be underestimated. Conversely, if immediate benefits to bird production actually undermine soil quality and its long-term ability to support key macro-invertebrate populations, the benefit of mid-contract management to upland bird production could be limited.

We believe that our work addresses a substantial gap in current understanding of agroecosystems enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. We will in particular investigate the response to four common mid-contract management activities, disking, burning, selective plantings, and herbicides. Although the impact of the CRP and management activities on soil health is well-documented, there are no known studies investigating the impacts of four common mid-contract management activities on various attributes of ecosystem health within the scope of an individual study.

Goals

To evaluate how different mid-contract management strategies address the goal of improving upland gamebird habitat, and also seeks to quantify the effects of mid-contract management on soil, plants, and insects.
Principal Investigator(s)
-Craig R. Allen, NE CFWRU
-Hannah Birge, NE CFWRU
Graduate Student(s)
-Hannah Birge, Ph.D.
Funding
-National Science Foundation IGERT Program
-United States Department of Agriculture