Biodiversity in Rural Landscapes
ARC Linkage grant, Select Harvest, Victorian Department of Primary Industries & NSW OEH. $547,892
Spooner, P., Watson, D., Luck, G., McLaughlin, J., Triplett, S., Oliver, D. (NSW OEH), & Watson,S.
Sustainable agriculture aims to maximise production and conservation outcomes. This relies on understanding cost-benefit trade-offs under different management approaches; information that is rarely available. This study quantified these trade-offs in agricultural landscapes by linking landscape composition and resource availability with biodiversity conservation, the provision of ecosystem services, agricultural pests and crop yield. In what is a novel approach the researchers examined these relationships across space and time to predict the consequences of future farm management scenarios.
Studies of biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes generally focus on remnants of native vegetation. However, the conservation value of other agricultural components of farming landscapes is gaining attention. Farms can provide important food resources for native fauna, both from crops and associated non-farmland habitats. However native species can inflict damage to crop production as well.
This project was based in a major food producing region in north west Victoria (the Robinvale almond production region) where researchers identified the relationships between key habitat, food resources and selected groups of birds, with an emphasis on the endangered Regent Parrot.
A two year project (2011-2012), The ecology and conservation management of the endangered Regent Parrot along the Murray River in NSW, funded by NSW OEH ($150,000) was undertaken concurrently with this project. It used a broader multi-state approach to focus specifically on the ecology of the Regent Parrot.
An analysis of the costs and benefits of bird interactions in crops found that the benefits of birds most likely far outweighed the costs. Birds like the regent parrot may inflict costs to almond growers through crop damage, but may also benefit growers through removal of nuts left in orchards post-harvest (these nuts are susceptible to fungal infection that may threaten future production). As well birds can increase agricultural yields by providing biological (pest) control.
The connectivity analyses undertaken in the almond cropping area found that the presence of almond crops enhanced native vegetation corridors so in a sense strengthened the habitat values of the landscape for many native species.
Luck, G., Spooner, P., Watson, D.M., Watson, S., Saunders, M. (2014). Interactions between almond plantations and native ecosystems: lessons learned from north-western Victoria. Ecological Management and Restoration 15 (1): 4–15.
Luck, G.W., Spooner, P.G., Triplett, S. (2013), (in press) Bird use of almond plantations: implications for conservation and production. Wildlife Research 40:523–535
Watson, S.J., Luck, G.W., Spooner, P.G., Watson, D.M. (2013 online, in press) Human-induced land-cover change: incorporating the interacting effects of frequency, sequence, time-span and magnitude of changes on biota. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 241–249. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/130097
Watson, S.J., Watson, D.M., Luck, G.W., Spooner, P.G. (2014 in review) Effects of landscape composition and connectivity on the distribution of an endangered parrot in agricultural landscapes. Landscape Ecology
Luck, G.W., (2013) The net return from animal activity in agro-ecosystems: trading off benefits from ecosystem services against costs from crop damage. http://f1000research.com/articles/2-239/v1
Triplett, S., Luck, G. & Spooner, P.G. (2012) The importance of managing the costs and benefits of bird activity for agricultural sustainability. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 10 (4): 268–288
There are a number of recommendations from this study. They include:
The final report has been presented to Select Harvest. The development of this project has led to partnerships with the Mallee Catchment Management Authority and the Almond Board of Australia. The latter is likely to lead to new research projects aimed at exploring new ecologically based options to deter birds from crops, for example, decoy and sacrifice crops, spatial planning of alternate food resources.
Dr Peter Spooner