Increased abundance and productivity of a grassland bird after experimental control of invasive tall fescue

Jaime J. Coon, Scott B. Maresh Nelson, Iris A. Bradley, Katherine E. Rola, James R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus) is a widespread invasive grass in the United States that degrades habitat quality for biodiversity. Herbicide followed by seeding of native plants reduces tall fescue and is predicted to restore habitat quality over time, but little is known about short-term (1–2 year) impacts on native species. We conducted a landscape-scale controlled experiment to assess the short-term effects of herbicide and seeding on the reproduction of an obligate grassland bird, the dickcissel (Spiza americana). In 2014, four sites in southern Iowa were each subdivided into three patches (mean 7 ha). One patch in each site was treated with glyphosate herbicide (spray-only), one with herbicide and native seeding (spray-and-seed), with the third serving as a control. Two sites were grazed by cattle from April to July and two sites were ungrazed. We monitored dickcissel reproduction in 2016, finding that they were more abundant, built more nests, experienced less cowbird parasitism, had increased nest survival, and produced more fledglings on spray-only and spray-and-seed treatments compared to control patches. Dickcissels nested infrequently on grazed sites—especially grazed control patches. We did not detect any impacts on clutch size, provisioning rates, or nestling mass, but Araneae (spiders) and Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) may have been smaller on sprayed patches. Positive responses by dickcissels were likely due to successful reduction of tall fescue and improved access to suitable nest sites through increased vegetation heterogeneity. Our results indicate that using herbicide and seeding to restore tall fescue-dominated sites improves habitat quality for this grassland bird, shortly after restoration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13709
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number8
Early online dateApr 22 2022
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • avian reproduction
  • dickcissels
  • invasive plant management
  • native plant restoration
  • tall fescue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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