Dr. Peter Blank, UW-Madison: Bird communities and biomass yields in potential bioenergy grasslands in Wisconsin, USA.

“PeterSwitchgrass? is a valued bioenergy? feedstock? source because of its perennial growth, ability to grow on marginal agricultural lands, low nutrient input requirements, high yield potential, and drought resistance. Grassland birds, which have experienced substantial population declines in recent decades, may benefit if diverse perennial grasslands? are expanded for bioenergy production (i.e., agricultural acres are planted and managed as perennial grassland bioenergy crops). However, due to technological and economic issues of converting cellulose? to ethanol, large-scale? industrial perennial grass production systems are lacking. And, to-date, few studies have evaluated the value of potential bioenergy grasslands for breeding birds, and existing studies lack appropriate study designs for broad inferences. To address the knowledge gap, University of Wisconsin post-doctoral research associate Peter Blank partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (David Sample, Bureau of Science Services), University of Wisconsin’s Department of Agronomy (Carol Williams), and the University’s Department of Zoology (Monica Turner), to study grassland bird communities, grassland vegetation characteristics, and grassland biomass? yields of southern Wisconsin grasslands.

During the two-year study (2011-12), Dr. Blank surveyed birds in three types of perennial grasslands representing potential future grasslands managed for bioenergy: warm season perennial grass monocultures, warm season perennial grass-dominated fields, and forb-dominated perennial grasslands. Ten bird Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) were observed in the study’s perennial grassland fields. Dr. Blank found that bird species richness and total bird abundance increased with forb cover and were greater in forb-dominated fields compared to warm season grass monocultures. He also found that density of SGCN declined with increasing vertical vegetation density, indicating that tall, dense grassland fields managed for maximum biomass yield would be of lesser value to imperiled grassland bird species. Dr. Blank also looked at landscape influences on birds in grassland fields of his study. He found the proportion of grassland habitat within 1 km of study sites was positively associated with bird species richness and the abundance of total birds and SGCNs, suggesting that grassland bioenergy fields may be more beneficial for grassland birds if they are established near existing grassland parcels. Dr. Blank’s study concludes that with appropriate financial incentives, farm owners could be motivated to use diverse grassland bioenergy plantings, and sacrifice some biomass yield, in order to support greater agricultural multifunctionality and meet conservation goals.

This study is forthcoming in PLOS One, an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online science publication.

See Peter’s web site: http://landscape.zoology.wisc.edu/People/Blank.html.

Anerobic Digestion and Biogas

UW Extension have created seven modules focused on the use of anaerobic digestion technologies. Details of the process are introduced, as well as factors that influence start-up, operation and control of anaerobic digesters at different scales.

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Carol Williams clwilliams4@wisc.edu
(608) 890-3858 (office)
(515) 520-7494 (mobile)
Department of Agronomy
1575 Linden Dr.
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706

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A visit to switchgrass? trial plots run by Iowa State University researchers; near Ames, IA. Photo by CL Williams, 2010.