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Why are birds more abundant on organic farms?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ailsa McKenzie, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD


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Recent reviews have concluded that bird diversity is greater and abundance is around 50% higher on organic than on conventionally-managed farms. Promoting organic farming could, therefore, enhance populations of farmland birds many of which have fallen dramatically in Europe over recent decades. No attempt has been made, however, to quantify the importance of different aspects of the organic farming regime. We attempt a novel approach to answering this question by using data from existing literature to quantify the relative contributions of the five main differences between the fanning systems. Though sample sizes are small, results suggest lack of pesticides and increased area of non-cropped habitats on organic farms make a significant positive impact on farmland birds (22 and 15% increases in important bird parameters, respectively). In contrast increased heterogeneity in cropping and fertiliser applications on organic farms may both be slightly detrimental to farmland birds when compared with conventional farm methods. The evidence for spring-sowing is minimal and thus we can only speculate as to their effects. Our work is useful in two ways: (i) we have shown that both heterogeneity in cropping and fertiliser applications are unlikely to underlie the reported increases of birds on organic farms; (ii) we hope to encourage work in areas that plug knowledge gaps in the current story, e.g. effects of spring-sowing on birds.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKenzie AJ, Whittingham MJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment

Year: 2009

Volume: 7

Issue: 2

Pages: 807-814

ISSN (print):

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: World Food RD Ltd.