Date of this Version
Conkling, T.J., J.L. Belant, T.L. DeVault, and J.A. Martin. 2018. Impacts of biomass production at civil airports on grassland bird conservation and aviation strike risk. Ecological Applications 28(5):1168-1181. doi: 10.1002/eap.1716
Growing concerns about climate change, foreign oil dependency, and environmental quality have fostered interest in perennial native grasses (e.g., switchgrass [Panicum virgatum]) for bioenergy production while also maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function. However, biomass cultivation in marginal landscapes such as airport grasslands may have detrimental effects on aviation safety as well as conservation efforts for grassland birds. In 2011–2013, we investigated effects of vegetation composition and harvest frequency on seasonal species richness and habitat use of grassland birds and modeled relative abundance, aviation risk, and conservation value of birds associated with biomass crops. Avian relative abundance was greater in switchgrass monoculture plots during the winter months, whereas Native Warm-Season Grass (NWSG) mixed species plantings were favored by species during the breeding season. Conversely, treatment differences in aviation risk and conservation value were not biologically significant. Only 2.6% of observations included avian species of high hazard to aircraft, providing support for semi-natural grasslands as a feasible landcover option at civil airports. Additionally, varied harvest frequencies across a mosaic of switchgrass monocultures and NWSG plots allows for biomass production with multiple vegetation structure options for grassland birds to increase seasonal avian biodiversity and habitat use.