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SAGE research highlights need for grassland conservation, agriculture support

November 2, 2020

New research from the Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) highlights the role grasslands play in supporting successful conservation and agriculture.

Led by assistant scientist Tyler Lark and Holly Gibbs, an associate professor in SAGE and the Department of Geography, this research utilized satellite data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey cross-referenced with data from crop yield maps to assess annual land use change.

While the data showed that cropland has expanded at a rate of over one million acres per year, the study also found that 69.5 percent of this new cropland produced yields below the national average. Meanwhile, the land, relative to unconverted land, was shown to provide more than three times higher milkweed stem densities and increased nesting opportunities for waterfowl.

Lark and his co-authors said, “Our findings demonstrate a pervasive pattern of encroachment into areas that are increasingly marginal for production, but highly significant for wildlife, and suggest that such tradeoffs may be further amplified by future cropland expansion.”

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