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Title: Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn-soybean croplands

item SHULTE-MOORE, LISA - Iowa State University
item NIEMI, JARED - Iowa State University
item HELMERS, MATTHEW - Iowa State University
item LIEBMAN, MATTHEW - Iowa State University
item ARBUCKLE, GORDON - Iowa State University
item James, David
item KOLKA, RANDALL - Iowa State University
item O'NEAL, MATTHEW - Iowa State University
item Tomer, Mark
item TYNDALL, JOHN - Iowa State University
item ASBJORNSEN, HEIDI - University Of New Hampshire
item DROBNEY, PAULINE - Us Fish And Wildlife Service
item NEAL, JERI - Iowa State University
item VAN RYSWYK, GARY - Farmer
item WITTE, CHRISTOPHER - Iowa State University

Submitted to: PLOS ONE
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/5/2017
Publication Date: 10/17/2017
Citation: Shulte, L.A., Niemi, J., Helmers, M.J., Liebman, M., Arbuckle, J.G., James, D.E., Kolka, R.K., O'Neal, M.E., Tomer, M.D., Tyndall, J.C., Asbjornsen, H., Drobney, P., Neal, J., Van Ryswyk, G., Witte, C. 2017. Prairie strips improve biodiversity and the delivery of multiple ecosystem services from corn-soybean croplands. PLoS One. 114(42):11247-11252.

Interpretive Summary: Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services from agricultural lands has persisted despite decades of spending on conservation. Most conservation has comprised engineered practices, while integrating diverse native species within crop production areas has rarely been considered. Through a long-term, field-scale watershed experiment, we determined how strips of native prairie perennial vegetation sown amid row crops supported biodiversity and ecosystem services. Prairie strips provided a cost-effective approach to achieve these benefits including support for beneficial insects, native birds, and water quality improvement. Substantial reductions in total runoff, soil erosion, phosphorus, and nitrogen occurred with prairie strips. Crop production was not affected in areas adjacent to the strips. Social surveys indicated both farming and non-farming populations in Iowa favor these outcomes. The prairie strips practice would be applicable to over 9 million acres of Iowa cropland in Iowa, and broad swaths of the Midwestern croplands. This information is of interest to agricultural and conservation communities interested in viable approaches to reduce agriculture's environmental footprint.

Technical Abstract: Losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services from industrial agricultural lands are persistent and growing challenges in the United States despite decades of spending on natural resource management. Most investments have been targeted toward engineered practices (e.g., sediment control basins, terraces) or vegetative practices using non-native plants in monocultural plantings. The integration of native ecosystems within crop production areas has largely been excluded from previous conservation approaches. Through a designed, replicated, long-term, catchment-scale experiment, we determined the extent to which strips of diverse, native, perennial vegetation (i.e., prairie) sown amid corn and soybean crops supported native taxa and garnered key ecosystem services. Our findings indicate that prairie strips provide a cost-effective approach for supporting biodiversity and improving the delivery of regulating and supporting services from row croplands, while minimally impacting crop production. Prairie strips provided for significant increases in native plants, insects, and birds, including pollinators and bird species of greatest conservation need. We also documented a 47% reduction in total runoff, associated with retaining 20 times more soil, 4.3 times more phosphorus, and 3.3 times more nitrogen, with prairie strips. Ground water nitrate-nitrogen concentrations were 3.6 times lower with prairie strips. Prairie strips did not affect corn or soybean yields beyond the areas taken out of production, nor did they alter weed cover in adjacent cropped areas. Social survey results indicated demand among both farming and non-farming populations for the outcomes prairie strips produced. If existing federal and state policies were aligned to promote prairie strips, we estimate the practice would be applicable to 3.9 million ha of cropland in Iowa, as well as broad swaths of the US Corn Belt and beyond.