Factors affecting species composition of arable field boundary vegetation

  • Published source details Kleijn D. & Verbeek M. (2000) Factors affecting species composition of arable field boundary vegetation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 37, 256-266.


In Western Europe in recent decades the diversity of native plants in arable fields has declined drastically and many formerly common arable weed species are now rare in intensively farmed regions. In this study conducted in the central and east Netherlands, how different types of field boundary management affect species composition of arable field boundary vegetation was assessed.

In June and July 1995, 105, 1 m wide field boundaries were surveyed on sandy soils. Vegetation was recorded in 4 m long quadrats at 0-33, 34-66 and 67-100 cm from the crop-boundary transition. Biomass production in each was estimated by cutting vegetation in 0.5 x 0.33 m subquadrats and recording dry weight. Samples were separated into four groups:

1) Annual dicotyledons (dicots) - mostly arable weeds;

2) Common couch Elymus repens - the most prevalent perennial weed;

3) Perennial dicotyledons - the most important species for many insects;

4) Monocotyledons (monocots) other than E.repens. Annuals (9 species of very low abundance) combined with perennial monocts .

From winter 1995 to summer 1996 landowners/tenant farmers were interviewed to ascertain: approximate boundary age and type; type of boundary management; crop rotation; fertilizer inputs; type of fertilizer spreader; preventative measures to reduce fertilizer misplacement; herbicide inputs per crop; and weeds considered most troublesome.

From the interviews it was found that the field boundaries were managed in three basic ways: cutting and removing vegetation (7%); cutting only (60%); no management (33%).

Herbicide application to boundaries was uncommon; most farmers using them did so by spot application targeting aggressive weeds such as creeping thistle Cirsium arvense, bramble Rubus fruticosus and stinging nettle Urtica dioica. Herbicide use in fields was mostly restricted to one application a year. The four most troublesome weeds by far were considered to be: fat-hen Chenopodium album, cockspur grass Echinochloa crus-galli, common couch and black nightshade Solanum nigrum respectively.

Maize, cereals, potatoes and sugar beet were the most common crops. Most maize fields were organically fertilized, many (30) farmers did not have fertilizer spreaders but of those that did, half did not take any preventative measures to reduce fertilizer misplacement. Rotations dominated by maize cultivation had significantly higher N and P inputs than other rotations. N, P and crop rotation were strongly correlated with composition of the boundary vegetation, species richness declining with higher N and P inputs. The boundary vegetation was characterized by a peak in biomass production in the zone nearest the field margin, dominated by E.repens. Annual monocots were also significantly more abundant in this zone.

Conclusions: This study suggests that efforts to protect field boundary vegetation should focus on a reduction or cessation of fertilizer application at field edges where crops requiring high nutrient inputs are being cultivated.

Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper.

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