Biofuel crop expansion contributes to loss of grassland birds in North Dakota, study

by Alexandra Weill, USGS
July 26, 2023

A new study from U.S. Geological Survey biologists shows that grassland birds in North Dakota have responded more negatively to the expansion of corn and soybeans as compared with oil and gas development and other types of agriculture.

In the Great Plains, corn and soybeans, the raw feedstocks used for bioethanol and bio-diesel production, have expanded in recent years following incentives for the production of renewable fuels. The region has also seen surges in oil and natural gas production. Both types of development have led to widespread conversion or modification of grasslands, which provide habitat for numerous bird species, many of which are recognized as species of conservation concern.

“North American grassland birds have experienced more population loss in recent decades than any other category of bird,” said Max Post van der Burg, USGS biologist and the lead author of the study. “Temperate grasslands are one of the least protected biomes on the planet and less than 30% of grasslands in the US remain, the rest having been converted to other uses like cropland.”

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