Unkempt, weedy land unintentionally boosts wildlife

May 20, 2013
Unkempt, weedy land unintentionally boosts wildlife

Parts of the farm landscape that look overgrown and 'scruffy' are more important in supporting wildlife than they first appear, according to new research published today in Ecology Letters.

The findings stem from an intensive study of an in Somerset by a team of scientists focussing on the complex ways in which and plants interact.

First, the team of researchers from the University of Hull, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, created one of the world's largest terrestrial food-webs – a what-eats-what guide to the food-chain, and then developed a method of predicting what would happen to the whole food-web when habitats were lost.

They found that many types of insects and other animals have food sources in the apparently 'scruffier' parts of the farm such as field corners, the edges of farmyards and bits of 'wasteland' where old tractors and broken machinery slowly rust away.

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), also allowed the team to identify when different animal species would be made extinct by the loss of particular habitats, and which plants are the most critical in sustaining animal life.

Dr Darren Evans from the University of Hull, the lead-author of the paper, said: "This research has shown us how the biodiversity of a particular area can be affected by changes to its habitat. We discovered that the small patches of unkempt and weedy areas on a farm are actually hugely beneficial in supporting local ecosystems. Indeed, they even benefit animals that could benefit farmers by providing pollination and natural pest control."

Dr Michael Pocock, a team member at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: "We found that the important food plants for many animals are found in multiple habitats on the farm boosting farmland wildlife resilience. In other words, if a farmer removes mature hedgerows and the plants this habitat contains, most animals could (in theory) survive because the plants are found in other parts of the . Our new analytical approach allows us to test which habitats are disproportionately most important and 'rough ground' – like the unkempt field corners – are most important of all."

Project leader Professor Jane Memmott from the University of Bristol said: "Essentially, in unkempt patches of the countryside there are a wide range of that many would regard as weeds, which are an important food source for many animals. There certainly seems to be a case for 'doing nothing' in these habitats. Farmers may even gain by having these scruffy areas because they support so many beneficial animals, such as bees."

Explore further: Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Farm 'weeds' have crucial role in sustainable agriculture

Feb 23, 2012

Plants often regarded as common weeds such as thistles, buttercups and clover could be critical in safe guarding fragile food webs on UK farms according to Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research ...

As predators decline, carbon emissions rise

Feb 18, 2013

(Phys.org)—University of British Columbia researchers have found that when the animals at the top of the food chain are removed, freshwater ecosystems emit a lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

New study shows how Salmonella colonises the gut

Apr 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —Salmonella is a major cause of human diarrhoeal infections and is frequently acquired from chickens, pigs and cattle, or their products. Around 94 million such infections occur in people worldwide ...

Recommended for you

GMO mosquito plan sparks outcry in Florida

6 hours ago

A British company's plan to unleash hordes of genetically modified mosquitoes in Florida to reduce the threat of dengue fever and other diseases has sparked an outcry from fearful residents.

Population genomics unveil seahorse domain

Jan 30, 2015

In a finding vital to effective species management, a team including City College of New York biologists has determined that the lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus) is more a permanent resident of the we ...

Researchers develop new potato cultivar

Jan 30, 2015

Dakota Ruby is the name of a new potato cultivar developed by the NDSU potato breeding project and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Dakota Ruby has bright red skin, stores well and is intended ...

Researchers develop new soybean variety

Jan 30, 2015

The North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station has developed and released ND Henson, a conventional soybean variety, according to Rich Horsley, chair of the NDSU Department of Plant Sciences.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

tadchem
not rated yet May 20, 2013
They are as important as the human appendix - and for the same reason: they provide a reserve of important but vulnerable species that can replenish a damaged biome.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.