Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Thesis


Grassland bird--Ecology--Iowa; Grassland ecology--Iowa; Biomass energy--Environmental aspects;


Changing land use practices and agricultural intensification have driven the loss of >90% of native grassland habitats in the Midwestern U.S.A. Consequently, grassland birds have declined more drastically than any other North American guild. Current biofuel production systems in the Midwest rely on high input monoculture crops that provide little habitat value to most grassland birds. The Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa is exploring the feasibility of growing and harvesting diverse mixes of native prairie vegetation for use as a sustainable biofuel in a manner that also provides high quality bird habitat. In 2009, 48 research plots on three soil types were seeded with one of four treatments of native prairie vegetation: 1) switchgrass monoculture, 2) a 5-species grass mix, 3) a 16-species biomass mix, or 4) a 32-species prairie mix. In subsequent years, I conducted visual surveys of breeding birds and monitored bird nesting attempts in the biomass production plots. I hypothesized that more diverse plant communities would support more abundant and diverse bird communities with higher nest densities and nest success rates. Results indicated that bird species richness and abundance were significantly greater in the biomass and prairie mixes compared to the low diversity grass plots; however, there were no differences between the biomass and prairie mix plots nor between the switchgrass and grass mix plots. Three grassland birds classified as “species of greatest conservation need” in Iowa successfully nested in the biomass production plots during my study, but nest density did not vary significantly among treatments or soil types. My results suggested that establishment and management of diverse native prairie vegetation for biomass production on marginal lands could have positive impacts on the maintenance of bird populations in agricultural landscapes.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Master of Science


Department of Biology


Tallgrass Prairie Center

First Advisor

Mark C. Myers, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (x, 70 pages)



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