Robertson, B. A., D. A. Landis, T. S. Sillett, E. R. Loomis, and R. A. Rice. 2013. Perennial agroenergy feedstocks as en route habitat for spring migratory birds. BioEnergy Research 6:311-320.
Increased production of bioenergy crops in North America is projected to exacerbate already heavy demands upon existing agricultural landscapes with potential to impact biodiversity negatively. Grassland specialist birds are an imperilled avifauna for which perennial-based, next-generation agroenergy feedstocks may provide suitable habitat. We take a multi-scaled spatial approach to evaluate the ability of two candidate second-generation agroenergy feedstocks (switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, and mixed grass-forb plantings) to act as spring migratory stopover habitat for birds. In total, we detected 35 bird species in mixed grass-forb plantings and switchgrass plantings, including grassland specialists and species of state and national conservation concern (e.g., Henslow’s Sparrow, Ammodramus henslowii). Some evidence indicated that patches with higher arthropod food availability attracted a greater diversity of migrant bird species, but species richness, total bird abundance, and the abundance of grassland specialist species were similar in fields planted with either feedstock. Species richness per unit area (species density) was relatively higher in switchgrass fields. The percent land cover of forest in landscapes surrounding study fields was negatively associated with bird species richness and species density. Habitat patch size and within-patch vegetation structure were unimportant in predicting the diversity or abundance of spring en route bird assemblages. Our results demonstrate that both switchgrass and mixed grass-forb plantings can attract diverse assemblages of migrant birds. As such, industrialized production of these feedstocks as agroenergy crops has the potential to provide a source of en route habitat for birds, particularly where fields are located in relatively unforested landscapes. Because industrialization of cellulosic biomass production will favor as yet unknown harvest and management regimes, predicting the ultimate value of perennial-based biomass plantings for spring migrants remains difficult.
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