Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Natural Resource Ecology and Management


Wildlife Ecology

First Advisor

Lisa A Schulte Moore


The conversion of native habitat to agricultural land in the U.S. Corn Belt has led to a misbalance of ecosystem services. Landscapes are managed primarily for provisioning ecosystem services, specifically the production of corn, soy, and livestock, which has led to unintended negative effects on soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat, and climate. To cost-effectively mitigate environmental impairments while maintaining crop productivity, continuous living perennial cover can be strategically integrated into the production landscape in ecologically vulnerable areas through spatially targeted conservation. This research developed methodologies to advance targeted conservation within agroecosystems of the U.S. Corn Belt and test the ability for targeted perennial cover to provide disproportionate benefits through three projects. The first project investigated the ability for alternative land use scenarios to enhance ecosystem services and economic benefits in an agriculturally dominated watershed in Iowa and Missouri. Results highlight opportunities for ecosystem service enhancement and public and private economic benefits when perennial cover is strategically integrated into agricultural fields. The second project created a methodology and spatial dataset using the Soil Vulnerability Index, to guide targeted conservation at multiple scales throughout Iowa and other Corn Belt states. The results will make designing multi-functional agroecosystems easier, and improve watershed management by researchers, watershed planners, and conservationists. The final project developed and tested a method for the spatial optimization of perennial conservation practices in small, agriculturally-dominated watersheds, and determined the economic impacts of optimal conservation practice adoption. The optimized land use cost-effectively enhanced water quality and biodiversity with minimal conversion of cropland, and showed that establishing perennial conservation practices can have significant economic impacts on the surrounding region. Overall, the methods developed here can be incorporated into watershed-scale planning tools, such as the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework, to inform cost-effective conservation action. Results can contribute to the science supporting spatially targeted conservation, and help Iowa and other agricultural states progress toward meeting public demands for ecosystem services from landscapes dominated by crop production.


Copyright Owner

Ellen M Audia



File Format


File Size

149 pages