The contribution of spatial mass effects to plant diversity in arable fields

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

Metcalfe, H., Hassall, K. L., Boinot, S. and Storkey, J. 2019. The contribution of spatial mass effects to plant diversity in arable fields . Journal of Applied Ecology. 56 (3), pp. 1-15.

AuthorsMetcalfe, H., Hassall, K. L., Boinot, S. and Storkey, J.

1. In arable fields, plant species richness consistently increases at field edges. This potentially makes the field edge an important habitat for the conservation of the ruderal arable flora (or ‘weeds’) and the invertebrates and birds it supports. Increased diversity and abundance of weeds in crop edges could be owing to either a reduction in agricultural inputs toward the field edge and/or spatial mass effects associated with dispersal from the surrounding landscape.
2. We contend that the diversity of weed species in an arable field is a combination of resident species, that can persist under the intense selection pressure of regular cultivation and agro-chemical inputs (typically more ruderal species), and transient species that rely on regular dispersal from neighbouring habitats (characterised by a more ‘competitive’ ecological strategy).
3. We analysed a large dataset of conventionally managed arable fields in the UK to study the effect of the immediate landscape on in-field plant diversity and abundance and to quantify the contribution of spatial mass effects to plant diversity in arable fields in the context of the ecological strategy of the resulting community.
4. We demonstrated that the decline in diversity with distance into an arable field is highly dependent on the immediate landscape, indicating the important role of spatial mass effects in explaining the increased species richness at field edges in conventionally managed fields.
5. We observed an increase in the proportion of typically arable weeds away from the field edge towards the centre. This increase was dependent on the immediate landscape and was associated with a higher proportion of more competitive species at the field edge with a lower fidelity to arable habitats.
6. Synthesis and Applications: Conserving the ruderal arable plant community, and the invertebrates and birds that use it as a resource, in conventionally managed fields typically relies on the targeted reduction of fertilisers and herbicides in so-called ‘conservation headlands’. The success of these options will depend on the neighbouring habitat and boundary. They should be placed along margins where the potential for ingress of competitive species, that may become dominant in the absence of herbicides, is limited. This will enhance ecosystem services delivered by the ruderal flora and reduce the risk of competitive species occurring in the crop.

Keywordsagricultural landscape; arable fields; fidelity score; plant diversity; resident weed community; spatial mass effects; transient community; weeds; field edge; conservation headlands
Year of Publication2019
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Journal citation56 (3), pp. 1-15
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderNational Environmental Research Council
Funder project or codeASSIST - Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Publisher's version
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online03 Jun 2019
Publication process dates
Accepted26 Mar 2019
Copyright licenseCC BY

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