Quantifying co-benefits of water quality conservation practices for wildlife of greatest conservation need in Iowa

Sep 2022


The intensification and homogenization of agricultural land use across the Upper Midwest has precipitated urgent challenges for both water and wildlife and is the focus of extensive governmental investment in research and conservation. Addressing these challenges has been the focus of interstate collaborations among agencies and organizations working largely in separate spheres to address either wildlife or water conservation. The lack of explicit coordination between planning and implementation strategies for water and wildlife conservation is a potential liability and shortcoming of working-lands conservation paradigms. Thus, research to integrate priorities for each domain would be mutually advantageous and could lead to synergistic improvements along shared priorities, improved government efficiencies and broader public support and engagement for nutrient reduction efforts.


This research seeks to advance collaboration by building bridges between water conservation and wildlife conservation practices in working landscapes by modeling impacts of watershed conservation practice implementation on wildlife species of greatest conservation need. Results should help compel additional engagement in nutrient reduction practices among policy makers, landowners and citizens interested in wildlife conservation in working landscapes and build bridges within the broader conservation community between wildlife and water quality practitioners.


Researchers will pursue three main approaches:

1) Evaluate intersections between Iowa Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and nutrient reduction practices used in Iowa on the basis of a comprehensive literature review; 
2) Develop species distribution models for SGCN in Iowa likely to respond to nutrient reduction practices; and 
3) Use the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework toolset to evaluate changes in nutrient export, conservation costs and SGCN species occurrence in response to implementation of water quality conservation practices sited within watersheds.

Award Number: 

Project Updates

Note: Project reports published on the INRC website are often revised from researchers' original reports to increase consistency.

December 2023

During this reporting window, we focused on development and implementation of species distribution models, gaining momentum and developing the groundwork that should position us for substantial progress on those models and resulting interpretation in Spring 2024. Janke and Rohde (project Ph.D. student) attended a workshop on the R package “spOccupancy” taught by the developer, to gain better insight on its use. We have also made significant strides in developing a covariate framework that will be included in our models. We have run several iterations of preliminary occupancy models using various landscape metrics from the National Landcover Database, which have revealed a need to use covariates that more accurately representing species of interest need across Iowa that will lead to better conservation practices.

We are developing a priori communities to estimate community-level effects in addition to individual species effects. Communities are first filtered through sampling methods, and then environmental preferences like wetlands, grasslands and edge species, to name a few. Furthermore, we have been developing a workflow to identify watersheds from the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework, simulate scenarios of conservation, extract appropriate layers and integrate those layers into extractable land use layers.

Finally, we devised an approach to the review and refined our focus to regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need for our literature assessment of water quality conservation practice impacts. In Spring 2024 we will be drafting the manuscript with intention to complete it by May 2024. We anticipate requesting a one year NCE in Spring of 2024 to facilitate completion of our species distribution models.

Project Activities:

1 Presentation.

Proposals Submitted:

Janke, A. K., R. Culbertson, M. McDaniel, S. McMillan. 2023 – 2028. Evaluating the environmental impacts of cattle grazing in Conservation Reserve Program fields in Iowa. U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency Monitoring Assessment and Evaluation Program - $999,232

Arenas, A. A., E. Heaton, K. Schilling, M. McDaniel, A.K. Janke, A. Kaleita, C Rehmann, M. Soupir, and A. Vanloocke. 2023. Multiscale assessment of alternative management strategies for farmed potholes. USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. $566,546

McMillan, S. A.K. Janke, J. Hosen, and E. Herbert. 2023. Designing wetland restoration strategies for ecosystem health and climate resilience. USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. $749,994.66


July 2023

During this project period, researchers:

- Held a number of meetings to arrange access to the long-term wildlife monitoring data that will be used to develop species distribution models in our water quality planning scenarios. We have worked with the Iowa DNR to agree to terms for use of those data and secured access. We have also commenced work with species distribution models using the spOccupancy package in R, which will facilitate the development of spatial occupancy models for over 100 Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Iowa.

- Commenced work to summarize land-use data from the National Land Cover Dataset and ancillary data sources for use in our occupancy models. The Ph.D. student that will be leading the development and delivery of the project deliverables – Michael Rohde – finished his M.S. degree in May and started at ISU. In his first month, he has taken a week-long training on the data collection protocols used in the DNR long-term monitoring project and also started to work on his proposal and the literature review for this project. We anticipate considerably more progress on deliverables in the next reporting window now that we have access to the data, clarity on the process, and the student on board.

- Are working with the Iowa DNR to arrange meetings with taxonomic subcommittees of the State Wildlife Action Plan, which will help us identify priority species to include in analyses. These meetings include experts from across the state on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. The dates are not yet set, but anticipated near the end of the year and start of 2024.