Kemmerling, L. R., C. E. Rutkoski, S. E. Evans, J. A. Helms IV, E. S. Cordova-Ortiz, J. D. Smith, J. A. Vázquez Custodio, C. Vizza, and N. M. Haddad. 2022. Prairie strips and lower land use intensity increase biodiversity and ecosystem services. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10:833170.
Agricultural landscapes can be managed to protect biodiversity and maintain ecosystem services. One approach to achieve this is to restore native perennial vegetation within croplands. Where rowcrops have displaced prairie, as in the US Midwest, restoration of native perennial vegetation can align with crops in so called “prairie strips.” We tested the effect of prairie strips in addition to other management practices on a variety of taxa and on a suite of ecosystem services. To do so, we worked within a 33-year-old experiment that included treatments that varied methods of agricultural management across a gradient of land use intensity. In the two lowest intensity crop management treatments, we introduced prairie strips that occupied 5% of crop area. We addressed three questions: (1) What are the effects of newly established prairie strips on the spillover of biodiversity and ecosystem services into cropland? (2) How does time since prairie strip establishment affect biodiversity and ecosystem services? (3) What are the tradeoffs and synergies among biodiversity conservation, non-provisioning ecosystem services, and provisioning ecosystem services (crop yield) across a land use intensity gradient (which includes prairie strips)? Within prairie strip treatments, where sampling effort occurred within and at increasing distance from strips, dung beetle abundance, spider abundance and richness, active carbon, decomposition, and pollination decreased with distance from prairie strips, and this effect increased between the first and second year. Across the entire land use intensity gradient, treatments with prairie strips and reduced chemical inputs had higher butterfly abundance, spider abundance, and pollination services. In addition, soil organic carbon, butterfly richness, and spider richness increased with a decrease in land use intensity. Crop yield in one treatment with prairie strips was equal to that of the highest intensity management, even while including the area taken out of production. We found no effects of strips on ant biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions (N2O and CH4). Our results show that, even in early establishment, prairie strips and lower land use intensity can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services without a disproportionate loss of crop yield.
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