Dr. Monica G.Turner
Department of Integrative Biology
University of Wisconsin
430 Lincoln Dr.
Madison, WI 53706
Ecosystem and
Landscape Ecology Lab

Field Photos

Figure 1. One of our grassland field sites. (Photo by Carolyn Schmitz)
Figure 2. Taking vegetation measurements in a warm-season grass field.
Figure 3. Henslow’s sparrow. (Photo by Tom Prestby)
Figure 4. Female bobolink with food.  (Photo by Carolyn Schmitz)

Potential consequences of grassland bioenergy crop production on bird communities in Wisconsin


Peter Blank, Monica Turner


Agroenergy, bioenergy crops, biomass, grassland birds, landscape scenarios, land-use change, species of greatest conservation need, Switchgrass, warm-season grasses

Research Overview

Demand for biomass-based energy, or bioenergy, is increasing in Wisconsin due to concerns about climate change, energy self-sufficiency, and air and water quality. Demand is also increasing for ecological services provided by agricultural systems. New bioenergy cropping systems must be deployed in ways that facilitate multiple ecosystem functions and provide farmer profit. Bioenergy production from native, perennial, warm-season grasses is a promising strategy for meeting energy needs and providing ecosystem services.

Little is known about the potential ecological consequences of switching from the current agricultural ecosystems dominated by annual crops to ones that contain more perennial grasslands. A better understanding of the ecological impacts of changes in biomass production will be important for improving the planning and implementation of bioenergy projects.

We are studying the potential consequences of increased bioenergy crop production on wildlife populations in southern Wisconsin. Initially, we are focusing on how changes in bioenergy cropping systems may influence grassland bird communities, because grassland birds are of high conservation concern in southern Wisconsin and utilize fields that could be harvested for biomass. Eventually we hope to expand this research to other wildlife taxa.

The project will have two phases. In the first phase, we are developing species-habitat models to answer the question: How does occurrence of grassland bird species vary with bioenergy crop and landscape context? Field studies were initiated during the 2011 breeding season in fields that varied by crop (mixed prairie, switchgrass and corn) and landscape context (proportion of forest, grassland or agriculture surrounding the fields). Field sampling continues in 2012.

In the second phase, we will develop alternative landscape scenarios that vary based on the amount and configuration of bioenergy crops in southern Wisconsin and project how grassland birds may respond under each scenario. We will generate spatially explicit models of plausible scenarios of biomass production and illustrate the potential impacts for grassland bird communities. Questions to be addressed include: Can landscape composition or configuration be used to mitigate potential negative consequences of increased bioenergy production on grassland birds? What qualities of the landscape should be maintained to reduce the risk to biodiversity? Can bioenergy production be made compatible with conservation of terrestrial wildlife?

A primary goal of the project is to discover potential opportunities for maximizing biomass production while improving wildlife habitat.

Funding source

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources