Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Joshua D. Stafford


Cover crops, Nesting ecology, Waterfowl management


The Prairie Pothole Region is the primary breeding ground for many species of North American waterfowl. This landscape was historically dominated by mixed and tallgrass prairies interspersed with wetlands, but >70% of native grassland area has been lost due to widespread conversion to croplands, which may threaten waterfowl production. Cover cropping is a re-emerging farming technique that may provide suitable nesting cover for grassland nesting waterfowl on active farmlands. My research objectives were to evaluate the utility of fall-seeded cover crops to breeding waterfowl compared to perennial cover, determine if cover crops in rotation with row crops can successfully support grassland nesting waterfowl, and assess landscape scale, agricultural practice, and vegetation structure factors that may influence nest survival. I searched 2,962 ha of cover crops and 2,244 ha of perennial cover during 2018 and 2019, and found 122 nests and 312 nests in each cover type. Estimated daily nest survival was 0.949 (95% CI = 0.942–0.957) for cover crops and 0.957 (95% CI = 0.950–0.964) for perennial cover, equating to seasonal nest survival rates of 17.2% (95% CI =12.4–22.3%) and 22.7% (95% CI = 17.5–28.5%) in cover crops and perennial cover, respectively. Although nest survival was similar between cover types, seasonal nest survival was only 1.3% when cover crops were planted to row crops in the spring. Our results suggest that under current management techniques fall-seeded cover crops may function as ecological traps for nesting waterfowl. Thus, managers may wish to consider not promoting fall seeded cover crops as nesting cover if they are to be planted to row crops in spring. Although nest survival in cover crops that were planted to row crops was low, the important benefits cover crops provide to soil health, water quality, and other ecosystem services remain. Additional research to understand the influence other cover crop types and management techniques have on duck nests survival would be useful.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Waterfowl management -- South Dakota.
Waterfowl management -- Prairie Pothole Region.
Cover crops -- South Dakota.
Cover crops -- Prairie Pothole Region.
Waterfowl -- Nests -- South Dakota.
Waterfowl -- Nests -- Prairie Pothole Region.
Wildlife habitat improvement.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright