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Pond management enhances the local abundance and species richness of farmland bird communities

Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment

Abstract

Agricultural intensification and the associated loss of non-cropped habitats have caused a major decline in UK farmland bird populations since the 1970s. As a consequence, there is an urgent need to implement effective conservation and habitat restoration measures in agricultural landscapes. Over the last 40-50 years, due to the cessation of traditional management practices, the majority of UK farmland ponds have become highly terres-trialised, resulting in major reductions in the diversity and abundance of aquatic plant and invertebrate assemblages. Recent research undertaken at farmland ponds in early summer, has shown restored open-canopy, macrophyte-dominated ponds support an increased abundance and diversity of farmland birds, compared to non-managed, overgrown ponds. Here, we expand on this previous research with a year-long field study to assess the implications of pond management for farmland birds by comparing bird diversity, abundance and activity at managed open-canopy ponds with those at unmanaged overgrown ponds. Driven strongly by pond management and connectivity to semi-natural landscape features such as hedgerows and woodland patches, bird abundance and species richness, as well as foraging and parental behaviour, were all significantly higher at managed open-canopy ponds. Further, a wider landscape analysis found that terrestrial land-use patterns in the vicinity of the ponds were not significant predictors of bird communities at the pond sites. In light of the numerous potential benefits to conservation-listed birds and other wildlife, we conclude that farmland pond management has been undervalued as a conservation measure to assist farmland birds. Consequently, we conclude that future agri-environment schemes, should more fully embrace farmland ponds.

Author(s): Lewis-Phillips, J; Brooks, S; Sayer, CD; McCrea, R; Siriwardena, G; Axmacher, JC

Journal: Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment

Year: 2019

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