Ecosystems Services

Adoption of pennycress as a cash cover crop not only can have financial benefits for farmers, it can also have ecosystem benefits, including nutrient retention and increased pollinator health and biodiversity. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is the second-largest dead zone globally, has been attributed to nitrogen inputs from agriculture in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Both surface and subsurface drainage modifications bypass traditional mitigation efforts.  Further, insect pollinators are negatively affected by modern agriculture monocultures of self- or wind-pollinated crops that are poor food sources. Pollinator access to food resources is essential in spring when nest-building, egg-laying, and brood-rearing are initiated. Pennycress as a cover crop can provide these and other ecosystem services that other cover crops do not.

Research Goal: Quantify the Benefits of Pennycress as a Winter Cover Crop

To quantify the benefits of pennycress as a winter cover crop, we focus on:

  • Assessing pennycress’ impacts on reducing nutrient flux, nitrogen, and phosphorus, from subsurface drainage throughout the year.
  • Determining abundance and diversity of pollinating insects of pennycress which flowers earlier than most other plants.
  • Measuring pennycress forage resources (pollen and nectar) for pollinators and characterize the health of both individual honey bees and colonies near pennycress fields.

Team

Leadership

  • William (Bill) Perry, Co-PI, Illinois State University

Collaborators, Graduate Students, Undergraduate Research Fellows and Interns

  • Frank Forcella
  • Alex Hafner, 2021 Integrated Plant Systems – Undergraduate Research Experience, Illinois State Univ.
  • Cody A. Hoerning, University of Minnesota (Grad. Student)
  • Rob Rhykerd, Illinois State University
  • Mujen (Jack) Wang, Illinois State University (Grad. Student)