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B.3-4: Evaluating fall-seeded cover crops for nesting waterfowl in eastern South Dakota

Presented by Charles W. Gallman - - Email: charles.gallman@sdstate.edu

The Prairie Pothole Region is the primary breeding ground for North American waterfowl. This landscape was historically dominated by mixed and tallgrass prairies interspersed with wetlands, but >70% of native grassland area has been lost due to widespread conversion to croplands, which may threaten waterfowl production. Cover cropping is a re-emerging farming technique that may provide suitable nesting cover for grassland nesting waterfowl on active farmlands. My research objectives are to: (1) evaluate the utility of fall-seeded cover crops to breeding waterfowl compared to perennial cover; (2) determine if cover crops in rotation with row crops can successfully support grassland nesting waterfowl, and; (3) assess landscape scale, agricultural practice, and vegetation structure factors that may influence nest survival. In 2018 and 2019 we searched cover cropped fields and perennial cover fields for waterfowl nests, collected vegetation measurements, analyzed landscape characteristics, documented farming techniques, and estimated nest survival. In 2018 we found 50 nests in cover crops and 118 nests in perennial cover. Estimated daily nest survival was 0.908 for cover crops and 0.962 for perennial cover, equating to seasonal nest survival rates of 3.8% (95% CI =1.19.9%) and 27.2% (95% CI = 19.236.5%) in cover crops and perennial cover, respectively. The 2019 field season is in progress and we intend to analyze and present results from both study years. As of mid-June 2019 we have found an additional 70 nests in cover crops and 167 nests in perennial fields. Potential exists for large acreages of lands with fall-seeded cover crops in the Northern Great Plains and our results will help managers understand if cover crops provide suitable waterfowl nesting cover, develop best management practices to maximize waterfowl nest survival in cover crops, and identify new research objectives.
Session: Threat Mitigation (Tuesday, August 27, 13:20 to 15:00)