Agroforestry and Wildlife Management
Go Together on Small Farms
Wildlife ecologist Joshua Millspaugh
uses radio tracking
to determine rabbit habitat
selection in various cover
types and to better understand
their movements in relation
to tree damage.
When one thinks of rural America, images of farms, trees, and wildlife
probably come to mind. All three components are tightly linked in a
cooperative research program to reforest Missouri floodplains once dominated
by oaks and other native trees.
The Agricultural Research Service's
Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center is working with the University
of Missouri (UM) Center for Agroforestry in the Agroforestry Family
Farm and Floodplain Program. ARS's David K. Brauer, research leader,
and agronomist David M. Burner provide support and serve as advisors
to the program, which is partially funded by ARS.
One priority of the ARS center, located in Booneville, Arkansas, is
to develop efficient agricultural systems for agroforestrythe
simultaneous production of animal forage, crops, and lumber on the same
land. ARS wants to transfer the knowledge they gain to landowners and
Agronomist David Brauer (left)
and forester Dan Dey examine
a cover crop of redtop grass,
which suppresses weed competition
and provides little winter cover
"We conduct research on the biologicial efficiency, economic potential,
and environmental benefits of both pine- and hardwood-based agroforestry
practices," including those that minimize the impact of flooding,
Brauer says. "This information will help promote agroforestry as
a land-use practice in the United States."
The university's center has brought together different departments
in its College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources and various
government agencies to demonstrate agroforestry's ability to generate
income, improve the environment, lessen the impacts of periodic flooding,
and create and improve wildlife habitat.
One project nearing completion is examining the role of different types,
sizes, and locations of agroforestry and native bottomland forest patches
in maintaining wildlife communities in an area along the Mississippi
River in southeastern Missouri. Mickey Heitmeyer and Leigh Fredrickson,
wetland biologists with UM's Fisheries and Wildlife Department, are
looking at six wildlife communitiesanurans (frogs and toads),
songbirds, birds-of-prey, bats, swamp rabbits, and waterbirdsand
determining, among other things, where and how to plant different crops
and trees to best benefit them. Certain government subsidy programs,
including the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (the Farm
Bill), encourage creation of high-quality wildlife habitats.
An Indigo Bunting (male)
is just one of the
songbirds common in
Another study looked at privately owned plots with typical agricultural
uses for that region, including agroforestry. If conservationists want
to protect the yellow warbler songbird, for example, the researchers
found it is best for farmers to provide the birds with habitat in abandoned
channels on the river side of mainstream levees along the Mississippi
Researchers used the plots to determine how songbirds select breeding
territories and react to different agroforestry systems. They found
that certain songbirds were common in agroforestry areas, and they seemed
to have a preference for young forests. If, however, bats are to be
protected, conservationists should be interested in those areas inside
levees where trees that provide greater forest cover are grown.
"Certain areas of the floodplain where crops were once grown are
better suited for forest patches, because trees, including agroforestry
plantings, can provide a riparian forest buffer along the river,"
Heitmeyer says. "Not only is this practice good for the environment,
it's also good for wildlife conservation efforts. We want to rate which
practices, for instance, help reduce soil erosion and help improve water
quality and wildlife habitat."
In Big Oak Tree State
Park, Missouri, research
assistant Shane Pruett
(left) records vegetation
and plant cover around an
Indigo Bunting nest.
Technicians Jon Mcallister
and Tara Eisenhower use a
camera to spy on nest
The Mighty (Tasty) Oak
Bottomland restoration research at Smoky Waters and Plowboy Bend conservation
areas in Missouri is using the root production method (RPM) system for
growing trees. Pioneered by a Missouri nurseryman, the system promotes
a tree's root system by using bottomless pots, creating a dense mass
of roots that enables the tree to absorb more oxygen, water, and nutrients
and establish quickly after being transplanted. Floods in 1993 and 1995
took their toll on oaks in 100-year floodplains along the Missouri and
Mississippi rivers. The enhanced root system increases survival rates,
significantly accelerates growth, and generates early flowering and
fruiting. Booneville scientists have had great success establishing
hardwood trees in Arkansas and Tennessee using seedlings produced by
the RPM system.
Acorns are an important element in the diets of area wildlife. The
RPM technique helped trees generate acorns after just 3 to 4 years instead
of 20 to 25, providing wetland wildlife with necessary food. And, because
they survive better under water than bare-root seedlings, these RPM-grown
trees flourish even during periodic flooding.
Additional work at the UM center considered why rabbits preferred to
eat oak seedlings that are surrounded by specific vegetation. Josh Millspaugh,
a UM wildlife biologist, and Dan Dey from USDA's Forest Service, wanted
to see how eastern cottontail rabbits forage in bottomland fields so
they could develop techniques that would decrease damage to plantings.
Because there is less vegetation available in the winter, oak seedlings
are hard for the rabbits to resist.
Cover crops such as redtop grass keep competing natural vegetation
in check and allow oak saplings to flourish. At a conservation area
in Missouri, one block was planted with oak trees and a redtop grass
cover crop. Another block was planted with oaks and no cover crop. And
a third control block contained natural vegetation that was unmanipulated.
The researchers determined that natural vegetation is taller in some
areas in the winter, keeping the rabbits safe from predators.
"But redtop grass suppresses that natural vegetation and mats
down flat in the winter, providing little cover for rabbits while they
eat," Millspaugh says.
The researchers will test other methods they've devised to protect
seedlings from being eaten by rabbits, such as mowing near plantings
to reduce cover. Further, they are monitoring rabbit behavior with radio
transmitters attached to collars. Other techniques include applying
plastic wraps around oak plantings and providing alternate food sources
to tempt rabbits away from the young trees.By Jim
Core, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Integrated Farming Systems, an ARS National
Program (#207) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
David K. Brauer is
with the USDA-ARS Dale
Bumpers Small Farm Research Center, 6883 South State Highway 23,
Booneville, AR 72927; phone (479) 675-3834, fax (479) 675-2940.
"Agroforestry and Wildlife Management Go Together on Small
Farms" was published in the December
2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.