USGS Scientists Quantify Benefits of Grassland Conservation to Birds and Bees

USGS Scientists Quantify Benefits of Grassland Conservation to Birds and Bees

A recent paper by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of North Dakota, and North Dakota State University found that healthy grassland ecosystems showed important economic benefits to beekeepers and improved bird populations. The research found that for every 10 square kilometer increase in grassland area, beekeeping revenue increased by $7,525 and grassland bird abundance increased by 2-7%. The authors note that grassland conversion around Breeding Bird Survey routes in North and South Dakota resulted in a 12.7% loss of grassland area between 2006 to 2012 and that conversion since 2007 resulted in $2 to $2.8 million decline in beekeeper revenue.

“Our study shows that grassland conservation is a win-win-win for the birds, the bees, and the people of the Dakotas,” said Clint Otto, a USGS scientist and the study’s lead author. “These findings highlight the critical importance of grasslands to society and can help inform land-use policy.”

Commercial beekeeping in the Dakotas is essential for honey production as well as agriculture across the country because honey bees pollinate crops like almonds, fruits, and vegetables. Flowers found in native grasslands provide an important pollen source for honey bees but also provide critical food and habitat for grassland birds like western meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows.

“Grasslands provide multiple ecosystem services to society,” Otto said. “It’s important for people who may never set foot on the prairie to understand the value of grassland in storing carbon, feeding livestock, improving soil health and water quality, and providing habitat for bees and pollinators.”

The new study is published in the journal Ecological Economics. For more information on land-use change in the Prairie Pothole Region, please visit the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center website.

June 15, 2022