Undergraduate Student Work


Open Access Undergraduate Student Work

Type of Work

Poster Presentation


Agricultural intensification has driven the loss of >90% of native grassland habitats in the Midwest. Consequently, grassland birds have declined more drastically than any other North American guild. Current biofuel production systems rely on high input monoculture crops that provide little habitat value to most grassland birds. The University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center 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, we seeded 48 research plots on three soil types with one of four treatments of native prairie vegetation: switchgrass monoculture, a 5 species warm season grass mix, a 16 species biomass mix, or a 32 species prairie mix. In 2011, I conducted visual breeding bird surveys and monitored bird nesting 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. Preliminary results indicate that bird species richness and abundance were significantly greater in the biomass and prairie mixes compared to the grass plots. Three grassland birds classified as “species of greatest conservation need” in Iowa successfully nested in the biomass production plots, but nest density did not vary significantly among treatments or soil types. My results suggest that cultivation of diverse native prairie vegetation for biomass production on marginal lands could have positive impacts on the maintenance of bird populations.

Date of Work



Department of Biology


Tallgrass Prairie Center


UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa


©2012 Jarrett Pfrimmer, Dr. Mark Myers, Benjamin Hoksch, and Drew Miller



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