Pest-removal services provided by birds on small organic farms in northern California
Megan Garfinkel, Matthew Johnson
Department of Wildlife, Humboldt State University, 1 Harpst St., Arcata, CA 95521, USA.
Many studies have established that birds may provide a pest removal service on farms, although few studies have taken place in temperate row crop agriculture. Wildlife-friendly agricultural practices such as organic farming and the use of hedgerows can in turn provide needed habitat for birds in developed landscapes. In this study, we examined how pest removal provided by birds varies within and between “wildlife-friendly” organic row-crop farms in northern California, USA. We used point counts to assess bird diversity on 29 small organic farms and simulated lepidopteran pest outbreaks on each farm using sentinel pest experiments. We measured how the probability of pest removal varied with local habitat characteristics within the farm, and with bird diversity parameters between farms. We also used exclosure experiments to determine whether birds provide a significant pest removal service in organic row-crop agriculture. In the sentinel pest experiments, birds depredated between 0 and 80% of caterpillar presentation stations within 7 h, with a mean of 24% depredation per farm; the probability of pest removal was higher in areas close to uncultivated shrubby field margins (“hedgerows”). There was only weak evidence that the probability of pest removal was higher on farms with higher avian insectivore richness, and no evidence that pest removal varied with species diversity or abundance. Exclosure experiments on kale crops showed no significant effects of bird exclosure treatment on arthropod abundance or crop yield. However, natural caterpillar densities were relatively low during the exclosure experiment (approximately one caterpillar/m2). These results suggest that birds may be more helpful in responding to pest outbreaks than in controlling pests at non-irruptive densities on organic row crop farms in this study system. The prevention of pest outbreaks is an essential ecosystem service on any farm, and the rapid response of birds to pest outbreak conditions is an indicator of resiliency in the agroecosystem. Therefore, the retention of uncultivated shrubby field margins in this system may benefit both birds and farmers.
Keywords: Farmland birds; Ecosystem service; Pest removal; Organic farming; Field margin.
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