Current Projects

Aviation risk and economics of alternate land use practices at airports (PIs- Belant, Martin, Burger; Graduate Students Biondi, Conkling )

Birds and aircraft compete for airspace in the modern environment. Conventional approaches to reducing the risk of bird-aircraft strikes include bird deterrent, harassment, and repellents, but these methods are reactive not proactive. Habitat management and conversion of the airport proper to alternative landcovers may be a better approach to reducing use of airspace by hazardous birds. We are investigating biofuel crops as an alternative landcover for the airport environment. We are monitoring mammals and birds among four treatments in a randomized-complete block design.

Effects of biomass production on wildlife and plant communities in intensively-managed pine forests of east-central Mississippi (PIs- Riffell, Martin, Burger, Iglay; Graduate Students - Loman, Wheat, Marshall, Greene)

These two operational-scale experiments examine the response of wildlife and plant communities to biomass removal and to establishment of a native biomass crop (switchgrass, Panicum virgatum) within intensively managed pine stands in east-central Mississippi. Stands were established in 2011. Specific questions include effects on avian nest success, availability of deer forage and plant species richness.Financial and logistical support was provided by Catchlight Energy LLC and Weyerhaeuser Company. D. A. Miller provided support under a Statement of Work as Service Providers for Catchlight Energy LLC during this research.

Influence of Landscape and Stand-Scale Factors on Priority Wildlife Species in Open Pine Stand Types (PIs- Rush, Tirpak, Wathen, Gleason; Graduate Students - Hannah)

Identifying qualities that contribute to ecosystem integrity (ecological diversity and function) is especially important in the context of modern, modified landscapes. My research investigates how landscape and stand-scale factors affect priority wildlife species in open pine stands throughout the historic range of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris). Characterizing high-quality open pine stands that benefit local wildlife populations will aid in strategic restoration decision making by identifying the portions of the landscape that would best potentially serve as a restoration site and identifying the priority species that can be used as indicators for these high-quality open pine stands (resembling historic conditions of longleaf ecosystems).

Native warm-season grass pastures of livestock, wildlife & ecosystem services (PIs - Riffell, Martin, Boland, Burger, Rude; Graduate Students – Monroe)

This is a multi-disciplinary evaluation of native warm season grass pastures in the Southeast. We established operational scale pastures (20+ acre paddocks) at Prairie Experiment Station to evaluate forage quality, weight gain, economics and a variety of ecosystem services (e.g., pollinators, breeding bird reproductive success, invertebrates) provided by NSWG compared to traditional bermudagrass pastures. Funded by USDA NRCS AWCC, MAFES.

Northern Bobwhite Metapopulation Dynamics (PI – Martin; Graduate Student - Drey)

Habitat fragmentation is one of the main factors affecting Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) decline and recover in the Southeastern United States. Bobwhites are adapted to patch disturbances and are effective at colonizing newly created habitat; however, the scale of disturbances in today's landscape are not likely congruent with bobwhite ecology. Bobwhites in low density fragmented landscapes likely operate under metapopulation dynamics. Connectivity between these subpopulations is an important aspect of the landscape given that bobwhites are poor long-distance flyers. Additionally, the composition of the landscape matrix will drive colonization success. The objectives of this project are to understand bobwhite ecology in metapopulation and/or low density.

Northern Bobwhite Population Dynamics (PIs – Martin and Burger; Graduate student - McConnell)

Northern Bobwhite populations have declined more than 80% since annual surveys began in the mid 1960s. Despite this precipitous decline bobwhite populations are still recreationally harvested over much of their range. Our current state of knowledge regarding sustainable bobwhite harvest management is outdated and incomplete. Coupled with that are significant gaps in our knowledge of bobwhite population dynamics, especially density-dependent processes. Therefore, we are investigating the role density dependence and the utility of an Adaptive Harvest Management strategy on bobwhite populations in the Red Hills region of northern Florida and southern Georgia.

Promoting and demonstrating the utility of native warm season grass based biofuels and field margins for pollinators (PIs- Martin, Campbell, Riffell, Burger, Belant, Wang; Graduate Student - Latino)

Pollinators contribute $217 billion of ecosystem services to agriculture annually worldwide. Conservation practices designed to promote and enhance pollinator habitat have become more common, but experimental quantification of how pollinators respond to conservation practices is limited. Our objectives are to quantify the number of flower visiting insect species utilizing a variety of conservation practices (including conservation buffers, whole-field practices, and prescribed grazing) and validate actual pollination versus flower visitation across Mississippi's ecoregions. Funded by USDA NRCS CIG Grant.

Effects of biomass production on wildlife and plant communities in intensively-managed pine forests of east-central Mississippi (PIs- Riffell, Martin, Burger; Graduate Students - Loman, Wheat)

These two operational-scale experiments examine the response of wildlife and plant communities to biomass removal and to establishment of a native biomass crop (switchgrass, Panicum virgatum) within intensively managed pine stands in east-central Mississippi. Stands were established in 2011. Specific questions include effects on avian nest success, availability of deer forage and plant species richness. Funded by Weyerhaeuser NR Company

Past Projects

Developing geospatial decision support tools for conservation planning (PI - Burger)

The USDA Farm Bill conservation programs provide landowner incentives to remove less productive and environmentally sensitive lands from agricultural production and reestablish them in natural vegetation (e.g., native grasses, trees, etc.) to achieve conservation objectives. However, removal of arable land from production imposes an opportunity cost associated with loss in revenue from commodities that otherwise would have been produced. Recent Farm Bills have increasingly emphasized targeted practices to achieve specific environmental outcomes that maximize environmental benefits relative to cost. Precision agriculture technologies provide a powerful conservation planning tool for identifying environmental and economic opportunities in agricultural systems. Precision implementation of conservation practices, is the foundation of strategic conservation planning and is essential for optimization of environmental and economic benefits. Toward this end, we developed a geospatial decision support tool (Arc GIS tool) to inform this decision-making process.

Estimating wildlife response to the Conservation Reserve Program - bobwhite quail and grassland songbirds (PIs - Riffell, Burger)

We used Breeding Bird Survey data and existing land cover datasets for retrospective analysis of correlative relationships among land use/land cover types, Conservation Reserve Program habitats and indices of grassland bird populations.

Mid-contract management effects on wildlife in CP33 Native Grass Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (PIs - Riffell, Burger; Graduate Students – Adams, Baker, Dollar, Hale)

Periodic disturbance is necessary to maintain conservation grasslands in early-successional stages favored by many grassland species of conservation concern. This field-level experiment compared burning and disking on 30-m NWSG conservation buffers to undisturbed control buffers. We evaluated the response of birds, butterflies, fire ants and plant communities to these disturbance regimes.

USDA NRCS Bobwhite Restoration Project (PIs - Burger, Evans)

The USDA-NRCS Bobwhite Restoration Project is a cooperative effort among multiple agencies mutually interesting in achieving the goals of the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI). Partners in this venture include U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Mississippi State University, Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (MSU), Quail Unlimited, Inc. (QU), and the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (SEAFWA). NRCS-WHMI has the lead role establishing and overseeing the NRCS Northern Bobwhite Restoration Project. NRCS-WHMI is utilizing Mississippi University, Department of Wildlife & Fisheries as the umbrella institution to coordinate the efforts with other partners.

To check their website click:USDA NRCS Bobwhite Restoration Project

National CP33 monitoring program phase II: evaluating mid-contract management to increase wildlife benefits (Evans, Burger, Riffell)

In 2004, the USDA Farm Service Agency initiated conservation practice Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (CP33) under the continuous sign-up Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to target recovery of northern bobwhite (Colinus virgianianus) and other upland bird species in row-crop agricultural landscapes. From 2006-2011, a coordinated CP33 monitoring effort was developed and implemented across 14 states containing 80% of enrolled CP33 acreage within the core bobwhite range. The Agricultural Ecology Lab collates and analyzes the data for this effort. Funded by a Multistate Conservation Grant Program supported by the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional funding from USDA-FSA, USDA-NRCS-Conservation Effects Assessment Project, and various state agencies.

To check their website click:CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds: National Monitoring Program

Plant communities of switchgrass and non-switchgrass pine stands (PIs - Iglay, Riffell)

These two operational-scale experiments examine the response of wildlife and plant communities to biomass removal and to establishment of a native biomass crop (switchgrass, Panicum virgatum) within intensively managed pine stands in east-central Mississippi. Stands were established in 2011. Specific questions include effects on avian nest success, availability of deer forage and plant species richness. Financial and logistical support was provided by Catchlight Energy LLC and Weyerhaeuser Company. D. A. Miller provided support under a Statement of Work as Service Providers for Catchlight Energy LLC during this research.