Most of Virginia’s grasslands, including hay fields and livestock pastures, are dominated by nonnative “cool-season” grasses. Cool-season grasses were introduced following European settlement, mainly to extend the grazing season for livestock. Since these grasses grow better in cool weather they tend to outcompete many native grasses, otherwise known as “warm-season” grasses, which don’t start emerging until early summer.
State-led programs have been initiated to bring native grasses and wildflowers back to Virginia's countryside to support local wildlife like bobwhite quail and pollinators. VWL researchers sought out both cool- and warm-season grass fields for this study.
Cool-season grasses tend to provide animals with less cover from predators flying overhead. They can also get matted down like a carpet in the winter, making it difficult for small animals and birds to move around beneath the grass canopy.
Native grasses, on the other hand, tend to stand tall and maintain their structure all winter long. When their strong stems bend under the weight of snow, it creates a tent-like canopy that provides cover from aerial predators but also leaves pathways along the ground for animals to flee.