Theme 1: Rangeland/Grassland Ecology--Oral Sessions

Description

The capacity of grasslands to provide ecosystem services, such as pollinator resources, is often limited by lack of plant biodiversity. This is true of grasslands in the eastern US that are dominated by tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) a non-native, cool-season grass that is typically toxic to cattle. This paper summarizes a research project in Virginia, USA exploring the idea that ecosystem services provided by tall fescue-dominated grasslands can be improved by increasing the plant biodiversity available to beef cattle and bees. Within three 6.5 ha tall fescue grasslands, we established 0.8 ha plots with a 17 species mix of native warm-season grasses (NWSGs) and wildflowers. Beginning in 2018, we measured grass and wildflower establishment, attractiveness of wildflowers to bees, abundance and diversity of bee communities in biodiverse pastures and adjacent tall fescue pastures. Many of the 18 species sown established well expect for NWSGs. Competition from wildflowers likely suppressed native grasses and limited forage availability for beef cattle. Cattle largely ignored the wildflowers. This finding suggests that cattle and pollinators can share this biodiverse grassland as their primary foods are mutually exclusive. The total number of bees was almost double in wildflower-enhanced grasslands compared with more typical tall fescue grasslands. We observed most bee landings on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Several weedy species such as milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and musk thistle (Carduus nutans) were also attractive to bees. Preliminary analyses identified at least 28 bee morphospecies and a distinct bee community present in wildflower pastures. While these results were promising, more research is needed on ways to establish biodiverse grasslands so that a more optimal balance of grasses and wildflowers can be sustained to benefit both cattle production and pollinators.

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Bee-Friendly Beef: Developing Biodiverse Pastures to Increase Ecosystem Services

The capacity of grasslands to provide ecosystem services, such as pollinator resources, is often limited by lack of plant biodiversity. This is true of grasslands in the eastern US that are dominated by tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) a non-native, cool-season grass that is typically toxic to cattle. This paper summarizes a research project in Virginia, USA exploring the idea that ecosystem services provided by tall fescue-dominated grasslands can be improved by increasing the plant biodiversity available to beef cattle and bees. Within three 6.5 ha tall fescue grasslands, we established 0.8 ha plots with a 17 species mix of native warm-season grasses (NWSGs) and wildflowers. Beginning in 2018, we measured grass and wildflower establishment, attractiveness of wildflowers to bees, abundance and diversity of bee communities in biodiverse pastures and adjacent tall fescue pastures. Many of the 18 species sown established well expect for NWSGs. Competition from wildflowers likely suppressed native grasses and limited forage availability for beef cattle. Cattle largely ignored the wildflowers. This finding suggests that cattle and pollinators can share this biodiverse grassland as their primary foods are mutually exclusive. The total number of bees was almost double in wildflower-enhanced grasslands compared with more typical tall fescue grasslands. We observed most bee landings on purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum). Several weedy species such as milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and musk thistle (Carduus nutans) were also attractive to bees. Preliminary analyses identified at least 28 bee morphospecies and a distinct bee community present in wildflower pastures. While these results were promising, more research is needed on ways to establish biodiverse grasslands so that a more optimal balance of grasses and wildflowers can be sustained to benefit both cattle production and pollinators.