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Research center’s conservation manager published in journal

The Journal of Applied Ecology recently published an article about grassland-bird nest survival by National Great Rivers Research and Education Center’s Conservation Program Manager Justin Shew. The center, based in East Alton, is a collaborative partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Lewis and Clark Community College.

ngrreccgrasslandsThe research was conducted as a part of Shew’s doctoral studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory. He earned his doctorate in December 2016.

“Our research demonstrated that tractor-based management, such as light-strip discing, and establishing native-grass practices on private grasslands enrolled in the federal and widely popular Conservation Reserve Program, can improve nest survival of multiple grassland bird species and communities,” Shew said. “However, habitat managers and conservationists must realize that when viewed from a multi-scale perspective (i.e. assessing a range of habitat factors from nest-site characteristics to landscape context), nest survival is often best predicted by unmanageable finer-scale habitat factors.”

Shew studied the nest survival of red-winged blackbirds and dickcissels, and two nesting communities (ground and above-ground nesters), relative to management and multi-scale habitat. This research is particularly important because many grassland bird populations in North America have been consistently declining over decades and properly guided management decisions may help alleviate these declines.

“We recommend grasslands be managed to provide a variety of nesting opportunities for birds and that agency staff promote grassland management and native-grass practices on private lands, especially within beneficial landscapes, that also foster within-field colonization and persistence of focal species,” Shew said.

As the NGRREC conservation program manager, Shew works closely with partners such as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which both administer and support crucial private lands conservation programs in the state of Illinois.

His research is extremely relevant to the partners with which he works, especially the NRCS. In one of his roles, he manages and coordinates NGRREC’s Land Conservation Specialist program. The specialists are remotely stationed in several NRCS service center offices and assist NRCS and many private landowners directly with the Conservation Reserve Program. Therefore, his research will be directly communicated to NRCS partners and NGRREC’s LCSs for improved habitat management guidance for the benefit of wildlife, such as grassland birds.

“Dr. Shew’s published work is a very good example of how NGRREC uses science-based information to directly inform land and water conservation practices and policies,” said NGRREC Senior Scientist Richard Warner. “NGRREC’s Land Conservation Specialist program is directly benefitting many private landholders in the Lewis and Clark district, assisting them in achieving their goals while optimizing outcomes for land, water, and wildlife conservation.”

The public will be able to access the paper for free for two weeks through the Journal of Applied Ecology’s website and Digital Object Identifier (DOI) at: Statistical code and data can be found at: The public is welcome to contact Shew for more details regarding this research via e-mail at

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