But new research by wildlife scientists in the University of Georgia's Warnell School of Forest Resources shows that alternative farming practices like clover strip-cropping provide critically important habitat for threatened songbirds. Clover, interplanted in rows between the cotton, offers the birds ready cover from predators, insects for food, and just as importantly, enough time to nest and fledge young between field operations. This is the first study to compare the effects on birds of conventional and alternative farming practices in cotton.
"Other studies have looked at alternative farming systems in terms of cost savings, erosion control and soil fertility," said UGA wildlife researcher Bob Cooper, "but we're the first to look at clover strip-cropping and conservation tillage systems in cotton with regard to wildlife."
Much of the songbird decline is linked to the loss of rural land, both here and in South America where many birds migrate for winter. Thousands of rural acres have been converted to apartment complexes, shopping areas, suburban housing -- even to pine plantations. In South America, forests are being bulldozed to make way for non-sustainable forms of agriculture such as cattle farms and sun-grown coffee. None of these habitats provide the diverse combination of natural woodlands, open grasslands and shrubby areas the birds need to feed and raise young.
Researchers, who include Cooper, UGA wildlife biologist John Carroll and grad student Sandy Cederbaum, conducted the study with the cooperation of several farmers in east-central Georgia who are concerned about songbirds. Their research, presented at the
Contact: Kim Carlyle
University of Georgia