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Mixed effects of organic farming and landscape complexity on farmland biodiversity and biological control potential across Europe

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1. Organic farming in Europe has been shown to enhance biodiversity locally, but potential interactions with the surrounding landscape and the potential effects on ecosystem services are less well known.

2. In cereal fields on 153 farms in five European regions, we examined how the species richness and abundance of wild plants, ground beetles and breeding birds, and the biological control potential of the area, were affected by organic and conventional farming, and how these effects were modified by landscape complexity (percentage of arable crops within 1000 m of the study plots). Information on biodiversity was gathered from vegetation plots, pitfall traps and by bird territory mapping. The biological control potential was measured as the percentage of glued, live aphids removed from plastic labels exposed in cereal fields for 24 h.

3. Predation on aphids was highest in organic fields in complex landscapes, and declined with increasing landscape homogeneity. The biological control potential in conventional fields was not affected by landscape complexity, and in homogenous landscapes it was higher in conventional fields than in organic fields, as indicated by an interaction between farming practice and landscape complexity.

4. A simplification of the landscape, from 20% to 100% arable land, reduced plant species richness by about 16% and cover by 14% in organic fields, and 33% and 5·5% in conventional fields. For birds, landscape simplification reduced species richness and abundance by 34% and 32% in organic fields and by 45·5% and 39% in conventional fields. Ground beetles were more abundant in simple landscapes, but were unaffected by farming practice.

5.Synthesis and applications. This Europe-wide study shows that organic farming enhanced the biodiversity of plants and birds in all landscapes, but only improved the potential for biological control in heterogeneous landscapes. These mixed results stress the importance of taking both local management and regional landscape complexity into consideration when developing future agri-environment schemes, and suggest that local-regional interactions may affect other ecosystem services and functions. This study also shows that it is not enough to design and monitor agri-environment schemes on the basis of biodiversity, but that ecosystem services should be considered too.
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Keywords: agri-environment schemes; agricultural intensification; biological control; ecosystem services; landscape homogenization; species richness

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7044, 750 07 Uppsala, Sweden 2: Nature Conservation and Plant Ecology Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands 3: Institute of Ecology, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Dornburger Str. 159, D-07743 Germany 4: Agroecology, Department of Crop Sciences, Georg-August-University Goettingen, Grisebachstr. 6, D-37077 Göttingen, Germany 5: Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Lai 40, Tartu 51005, Estonia

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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