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Organic farming at local and landscape scales benefits plant diversity

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Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been suggested to counter negative effects of agricultural intensification and enhance farmland biodiversity, but evaluations have produced inconsistent results. We suggest that this is partly a consequence of scale-dependence, i.e. that the consequence of organic farming will differ depending on the scale of uptake in a particular landscape. To test our hypothesis on diversity of forbs, we designed a landscape scale study using spatially explicit information about the Swedish AES for organic farming. The study system consisted of uncultivated field borders along paired fields (organic and conventional) in matched landscapes with either a high or a low proportion of organic faming, allowing separate tests of the effects of farming practice at the local and the landscape scale. The local effect of organic farming was consistently strong, with higher diversity in borders adjoining organic fields, most likely due to the lack of herbicide use on organically managed farmland. Thus, we show that not only the proportion of semi-natural habitat is important for farmland biodiversity, but that also the management of cropland can influence the diversity in semi-natural habitats. Furthermore, forb richness was also higher in borders situated in landscapes with a high proportion of organic land, irrespectively of local management, possibly as a result of dispersal of mainly annual plant species from the organically managed fields into the borders (mass effect). Our results demonstrate that farming practice at a local and a landscape scale independently can influence plant species richness, indicating that organic farming can influence diversity also at larger spatial scales and outside the organically managed land. Our study highlight the importance of studying multiple scales, including both local and landscape factors to provide a better understanding of biodiversity patterns.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2010

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