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Disentangling the effects of fertilisers and pesticides on winter stubble use by farmland birds

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ailsa McKenzie, Professor Carlo Leifert, Peter Shotton, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD


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Cereal stubbles are a preferred foraging habitat for overwintering granivorous farmland bird species. Levels of this habitat have declined in recent decades across much of western Europe with increasing agricultural intensification. Organic farms typically hold more stubble fields than conventional farms and thus may provide important refuges for wintering birds. However, while organic stubble fields often contain higher food densities than conventional stubble fields, the more complex vegetation structure associated with organic farming may decrease use by birds. Bird use, vegetation characteristics and seed densities were measured on stubble plots managed under four strategies (Organic [organic fertiliser only and no chemical pesticides], Conventional [inorganic fertiliser and chemical pesticides], NOFERT [organic fertiliser only and chemical pesticides] and NOPEST [inorganic fertiliser and no chemical pesticides]). Skylarks foraged most frequently on stubbles which received no pesticide applications which also had the highest weed seed densities. Plots receiving either inorganic or organic fertiliser applications did not differ in terms of use by skylarks, weed seed density or diversity, or vegetation structure. Plot use by yellowhammers was not significantly related to pesticide or fertiliser applications. Possible reasons for this are discussed. Results suggest that the main benefit of organic stubble fields for birds is via reduced pesticide inputs. Use of inorganic fertilisers is also beneficial for birds via increased weed seed densities, but to a lesser extent.

Publication metadata

Author(s): McKenzie AJ; Leifert C; Whittingham MJ; Shotton P; Vickery JA

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Basic and Applied Ecology

Year: 2011

Volume: 12

Issue: 1

Pages: 80-88

Print publication date: 08/12/2010

ISSN (print): 1439-1791

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: Urban und Fischer Verlag


DOI: 10.1016/j.baae.2010.10.007


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