Conservation Research

Estimating the Biological and Economic Contributions that Rice Habitats Make in Support of North American Waterfowl Populations

This study examined how rice habitats support North American waterfowl populations. The research determined that without rice habitats, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan’s population goals were unlikely to be met. The total cost of replacing all flooded rice habitats in the United States would approach $3.5 billion, which doesn’t include annual operation and management costs ranging from a $73,000,000 to $128,000,000. This research quantified and reinforced the overall value of flooded rice habitats in support of North American waterfowl populations.

 

Ducks in a rice field

North American Waterbirds

Many researchers have examined rice management practices and the ecology of wildlife in rice fields separately. This interdisciplinary study investigated the integration of the two components, which is a relatively new research area. The goal was to develop an interdisciplinary approach in evaluating factors that limit rice production and waterbird sustainability in California, particularly in relation to alternative rice management (ARM) practices. The study determined that waterfowl can help reduce red rice and other weeds and increase straw decomposition in flooded, fallow rice fields. It also found that, at certain densities, waterfowl may minimize autumn tillage requirements. As a result, researchers recommend rice producers consider practices that attract waterfowl, offering a new sustainable technique for growers.

The Role of Rice Agriculture in the Winter Ecology of Northern Pintails

Northern pintails, formerly among the most abundant ducks in North America, have declined in numbers significantly since the 1950s due to drought and loss of habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region. This study found that the quality of food obtained from freshwater habitats throughout the Central Coast of Texas—primarily rice fields—is considerably better than food in coastal habitats and provides wintering pintails with ample energy reserves for spring migration. Those in saline, coastal habitats did not. Based on this and prior research, the study concluded that management strategies that provide or protect natural shallow freshwater habitats and current and fallow rice fields would benefit northern pintails, reinforcing rice’s exceptionally important role in providing waterfowl habitats.