Date of Award

December 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Plant and Environmental Science

Committee Member

Dara Park

Committee Member

Joseph Lanham

Committee Member

William Bridges

Committee Member

Carmen Blubaugh


The Southern Piedmont region of South Carolina has been historically a mixture of forests, grasslands, and agroecosystems. While forests and grasslands have declined due to development, agroecosystems may be able to provide habitat for summer bird species in the region. Cover cropping is a practice in conservation agriculture that can conserve and improve soil resources, yet adoption is low in the Southeast due to long cash crop growing seasons and a lack of technical knowledge on regionally appropriate cover crops. Two field experiments were conducted in 2019 on a sandy loam in Pendleton, South Carolina to determine summer cover crop performance in the Southern Piedmont. Seven different cover crops were compared: sunflower, cowpea, sorghum, soybean, pearl millet, a multispecies blend, and a fallow treatment. Soil conditions and plant growth metrics were recorded weekly. Deer herbivory on cowpea reduced biomass in both the cowpea and mixture treatments. With exception of soybean, all treatments had similar nitrogen and phosphorus yields, with sunflower and fallow treatments having the greatest potassium yields. Cowpea had the lowest C:N ratio, while sunflower and pearl millet had C:N ratios optimal for microbial decomposition of residue. Sunflower appeared to be the healthiest and reached 100% cover and 80% flowering quickest. Sunflower is a good cover crop for nutrient cycling, confers protection from raindrop erosion, well-adapted to dry conditions, and its short life cycle permits an early or late summer cash crop planting. Summer bird diversity and equitability was studied in a Piedmont agroecosystem by conducting a modified breeding bird survey consisting of 30-point counts. Analysis of factors was conducted to see the effects these factors had on diversity indices. In addition, a sweep net survey was conducted in a nearby cover crop plot. A total of 6250 individuals were detected, represented by 48 species. Indices were greatest when surveys were conducted in the second week of June, in early morning hours, and in fescue pastures with cattle present. A total of 539 arthropods were identified, with the most common taxon of arthropods being Acrididae. There is potential for cover crops to provide habitat and forage to breeding grassland and farmland birds.



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