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High cover of hedgerows in the landscape supports multiple ecosystem services in Mediterranean cereal fields

Journal of Applied Ecology


1. Field-margin diversification through conservation and restoration of hedgerows is becoming a prominent intervention for promoting biodiversity and associated ecosystem services in intensive agricultural landscapes. However, how increasing cover of hedgerows in the landscape can affect ecosystem services has rarely been considered. 2. Here, we assessed the effect of increased field-margin complexity at the local scale and increasing cover of hedgerows in the landscape on the provision of pest control, weed control and potential pollination. Locally, three types of field margin were compared as follows: (i) standard grass margin, (ii) simple hedgerow and (iii) complex hedgerow, along two independent gradients of hedgerow cover and arable land cover in the landscape. We performed an exclusion experiment to measure biological control of cereal aphids and assessed natural enemy and pest abundance in the field. We sampled plant weed communities and performed a phytometer experiment to test the effects of pollinators on plant reproductive success. 3. At the local scale, planting a new hedgerow or improving its structural complexity and vegetation diversity did not enhance the delivery of ecosystem services in the neighbouring field. 4. However, high cover of hedgerows in the landscape enhanced aphid parasitism (from 12 to 18%) and potential pollination (visitation rate and seed set increased up to 70%) irrespective of local margin quality. The cover of arable land in the landscape reduced the abundance of plant-dwelling predators and weed diversity, but did not affect the delivery of the investigated ecosystem services. 5. Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight the key importance of the surrounding landscape context, rather than local factors, to the delivery of ecosystem services. This suggests a need for new policies that pay particular attention to the conservation of hedgerows at large scales for promoting multiple ecosystem services in agroecosystems. Specifically, hedgerows can serve to develop a network of ecological corridors that can facilitate the movement of beneficial organisms, such as pollinators and natural enemies in the agricultural matrix. Such interventions may be a 'low cost-high benefit solution', since farmers can create or conserve high-quality habitats taking little or no land from crop production and without the need to change their crop management.

Author(s): Dainese, M; Montecchiari, S; Sitzia, T; Sigura, M; Marini, L

Journal: Journal of Applied Ecology

Year: 2017


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