Grass buffers for playas in agricultural landscapes: An annotated bibliography

Open-File Report 2005-1221

ORCID iD and



This bibliography and associated literature synthesis (Melcher and Skagen, 2005) was developed for the Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV). The PLJV sought compilation and annotation of the literature on grass buffers for protecting playas from runoff containing sediments, nutrients, pesticides, and other contaminants. In addition, PLJV sought information regarding the extent to which buffers may attenuate the precipitation runoff needed to fill playas, and avian use of buffers. We emphasize grass buffers, but we also provide information on other buffer types.

There are a number of relatively synonymous terms that describe grass buffers for wetlands. They include: buffer strip, vegetated filter strip (VFS), grass buffer, grass filter, grass hedge, and grassed waterway (GW), among others (see McKague and others, 1996). Although some of these terms represent slightly different designs, placements, and/or purposes, they all perform similar functions. In this document, we use ‘buffer’ and VFS more or less interchangeably; other types are specified by name (e.g., grass hedges).

Our bibliography is by no means exhaustive, as the body of literature potentially relevant to playas and wetland buffers is vast. Thus, we attempted to include and annotate at least 1–3 papers by numerous researchers heavily involved in buffer research and modeling. We also included single papers by other researchers to increase the spectrum of regional focus, watershed/wetland conditions, research approaches, researcher expertise, and the time over which buffer theories/practices have evolved. We found virtually no literature specific to buffers for playas (confirmed by D.A. Haukos, oral. commun., 2005); thus, we conducted interviews with playa scientists to glean information on possible buffer design and management specifically for playas. We did, however, find a significant body of literature on the results of controlled experiments designed to test buffer effectiveness, an important first step towards validating buffer effectiveness in real-world situations.

Of the literature on playa ecology, flora, and wildlife, we found that most focuses on playa basins and wetlands rather than the surrounding uplands and grasslands; furthermore, most of the empirical work on playa ecology has taken place in the Southern High Plains (SHP; i.e., Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas) because many wetlands in other portions of the PLJV region (Fig. 1) were only recently recognized as playas. Finally, we found few papers on avian use of buffers; therefore, we focused on those that report on avian use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields or lands enrolled in similar programs.

References on best management practices (BMPs) for agricultural lands were included because certain BMPs are crucial for informing decisions about buffer design/ effectiveness and overall playa ecology. We also included various papers that increase the spectrum of time over which buffer theories and practices have evolved. An unannotated section lists references that we did not prioritize for annotation and references that may be helpful but were beyond the scope of this document. Finally, we provide notes on conversations we had with scientists, land managers, and other buffer experts whom we consulted, and their contact information. We conclude the bibliography with appendices of common and scientific names of birds and plants and acronyms used in both the bibliography. In the annotations, italicized text signifies our own editorial remarks. Readers should also note that much of the work on buffers has been designed using English units of measure rather than metrics; in most cases, their results have been converted to metrics for publication, explaining the seemingly odd or irregular buffer widths and other parameters reported.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Grass buffers for playas in agricultural landscapes: An annotated bibliography
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Revised and reprinted 2005
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Fort Collins Science Center
iv, 46 p.
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