Publication Abstract

Assessing Multi-region Benefits from Strategically Targeted Agricultural Buffers

Evans, K. O., Burger, L. W., Riffell, S. K., & Smith, M. D. (2014). Assessing Multi-region Benefits from Strategically Targeted Agricultural Buffers. Conservation Biology. Conservation Biology Institute. 28, 892-901. DOI:10.1111/cobi.12311.


Mounting evidence of wildlife population gains from targeted conservation practices has prompted the need to develop and evaluate practices that are integrated into production agriculture systems and targeted toward specific habitat objectives. However, effectiveness of targeted conservation actions across broader landscapes is poorly understood. We evaluated multiregion, multispecies avian densities on row-crop fields with native grass field margins (i.e., buffers) as part of the first U.S. agricultural conservation practice designed to support habitat and population recovery objectives of a national wildlife conservation initiative. We coordinated breeding season point transect surveys for 6 grassland bird species on 1151 row-crop fields Q1 with and without native grass buffers (9–37 m) in 14 U.S. states (10 ecoregions) from 2006 to 2011. In most regions, breeding season densities of 5 of 6 targeted bird species were greater in the 500-m surrounding survey points centered on fields with native grass buffers than in landscapes without buffers. Relative effect sizes were greatest for Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), Dickcissel (Spiza americana), and Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and Eastern Tallgrass Prairie regions. Other species (e.g., Eastern Meadowlark [Sturnella magna], Grasshopper Sparrow [Ammodramus savannarum]) exhibited inconsistent relative effect sizes. Bird densities on fields with and without buffers were greatest in the Central Mixed-grass Prairie region. Our results suggest that strategic use of conservation buffers in regions with the greatest potential for relative density increases in target species will elicit greater rangewide population response than diffuse, uninformed, and broadly distributed implementation of buffers. We recommend integrating multiple conservation practices in broader agricultural landscapes to maximize conservation effectiveness for a larger suite of species.