It’s hard to keep wild animals out of farms. Birds, mammals and insects all affect crop yields, in positive ways (such as flies pollinating flowers) and negative ones (such as when birds damage fruit).
Agricultural research and management programs often deal with these interactions by focusing on simplistic “good” and “bad” labels: aphids are annoying pests, for example, whereas bees are little angels.
Read the rest of our piece at The Conversation.
And see the papers behind the article here:
Saunders ME, Peisley RK, Rader R, Luck GW (2016) Pollinators, pests, and predators: Recognizing ecological trade-offs in agroecosystems. AMBIO 45:4-14.
Peisley RK, Saunders ME, Luck GW (2015) A systematic review of the benefits and costs of bird and insect activity in agroecosystems. Springer Science Reviews 3:113-125.
Every year, I get to share my birthday with these guys:
I’ve been mildly obsessed with both of them for years, for obvious reasons. But it was only recently that I discovered their early contributions to the land-sharing/land-sparing debate, something directly relevant to my own work. Darwin’s ecological legacy is well-known, but how often do we consider Lincoln’s impact on environmental history? Continue reading →
There are very few (if any) true ‘wilderness’ areas left, those completely untouched by human influence. This isn’t a tragedy – it’s an opportunity to grow, learn and discover more about the amazing planet we live on. Many ‘natural’ ecosystems have become social-ecological systems, where humans and nature can co-exist, not out-compete each other.
Agricultural systems are a perfect example. It’s hard to keep wild animals out of agroecosystems. They affect crop yields directly and indirectly across the growing season through positive (e.g. insects pollinating flowers) or negative (e.g. birds damaging fruit) interactions with crop plants. Because humans tend to label and categorise things (labels are easier to manage, justify or remove) we generally label these animals as either ‘bad’ or ‘good’ – aphids are annoying pests, bees are little angels. That’s all there is to it.
In reality, no organism is completely ‘bad’ or ‘good’ to the extreme; the effect it has on other organisms around it, including us, varies with context. All the individual plant-animal interactions happening in a single crop system are influenced by seasons, landscapes, management practices, and the social, cultural and economic values of the local farming community. Continue reading →
Rolling plains of wheat, endless fields of flowering canola, row upon row of fruit trees: these agricultural landscapes are the stuff of stunning photographs.
Filling these paddocks with just one crop, known as monoculture, is a relatively easy, common and efficient way to produce food and fibre.
But international research shows that these monocultures can be bad for the environment and production through effects on soil quality, erosion, plants and animals, and ultimately declining crop yields. Research I have published this week in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability shows a possible link between monoculture landscapes and fewer wild pollinators.
Is there a better way to grow our food?
Published today at The Conversation. Read the rest of the story here….
There are so many complex interactions in Nature that we know so little about. Before emails, corporate-structured universities and funding cycles, ecologists spent a lot more time in nature, observing patterns that inspired questions to answer. Now that we spend more time indoors than out, how many ecological puzzles remain unsolved?
For the last few months I’ve been sampling insects in apple orchards for an ecosystem services project I’m working on. As a habitat comparison, I also collect insects in patches of native vegetation next to the orchards. At one of our sites, a biodynamic orchard in northern Victoria, the native vegetation is a stand of mixed Eucalyptus, Acacia and Dodonaea species that were planted on the farm some years ago.
Dodonaea (hop bush) is the largest genus in the soapberry family (Sapindaceae). It is predominantly Australian and a bit of a black sheep in the family. Many hop bushes prefer dry, open woodland; most other Sapindaceae species are found in dense tropical rainforests. Hop bushes produce small winged seed capsules; tropical Sapindaceae usually produce large fleshy fruits, like the lychee, longan, tamarind and rambutan. Hop bushes are wind pollinated; other Sapindaceae use extravagant, perfumed flowers to attract bird and insect pollinators. Continue reading →
A lot of great research on wild pollinators and agroecosystems has been published this year. In particular, the pollinator conservation literature seems to be moving on from simple abundance/richness comparisons to other ecological contexts that are potentially more relevant to policy and management decisions, such as nutritional and commercial qualities of insect-pollinated fruits.
Below is nice round list of four articles published this year that got me excited. All four are ‘firsts’ for their particular topics and use great study design and insight to lead current knowledge on the subject matter gently in a new direction. They are also pertinent reading as we balance on the cusp of the UN’s international years of Family Farming and Soils.
Continue reading →
Serious about saving the bees? Time to rethink agriculture.
There is much more to saving the bees than spring flowers and a golden mascot….
Read the rest of my article here at grist.org.
Have you ever wondered where pollinators go in winter? Most of us think of pollinators in spring and summer, when crops and wildflowers are in bloom and bees, wasps and butterflies are everywhere. Media coverage of pollinators peaks in spring months, and most studies of pollinator activity in crops and natural ecosystems are carried out during flowering in spring or summer, for obvious reasons. Continue reading →
Nature never did betray the heart that loved her
While I was researching my last piece on the EU’s neonicotinoid ban I came across some quite surprising sentiments. The most unexpected was someone complaining about all “the fuss” over bees.
Of course, the benefits of the ban will not just be for bees. All pollinators are crucial to healthy natural ecosystems and the success of our own food production systems. Bees just happen to be the most productive pollinators, and the most recognisable to us, so they have unwittingly become a symbol for pollinators and beneficial insects in general.
Neonicotinoids obviously also have toxic effects on other insects (that’s why they were created). An important example is mayflies and caddisflies, which are ‘keystone’ indicator species in healthy freshwater ecosystems. They can also cause secondary outbreaks of pest species like mites, because the initial insecticide application killed all the other insects that could have kept the mites in check. Continue reading →
Kudos to the European Union for voting to restrict these insecticides. Although the moratorium is only temporary, and isn’t a total ban, it’s an enormous step in the right direction.
I hope Australia and other countries are galvanised by this news to provide greater support for low-impact agriculture.
Read my whole article on this at The Conversation news analysis site.
© Manu Saunders 2013