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The Benefits and Costs of Bird Activity in Agroecosystems

Contrary to popular perception by farmers that birds are a pain in the neck and detrimental to crop production, a recent research reveals that their presence in farmlands has more benefits to the community and the environment than earlier thought.

Dr Rebecca Kate Peisley of Charles Sturt University, in her research ‘The benefits and costs of bird activity in agroecosystems', reveals that the foraging activities of the birds such as insect and vertebrate predation, consumption of nectar, scavenging on animal carcasses and consumption of fruit can provide significant gains to crop growers such as biological control of crop pests, pollination, nutrient cycling and waste removal.

Farm

Dr Peisley who made the observations between 2015 and 2016 observed the impact of avians on apple orchards, vineyards and pastoral land between 2015 and 2016 in South-Eastern Australia.

When she calculated the net outcome of bird feeding activity for fruit production in apple orchards, she found out that birds provided an overall net benefit to orchard growers: An increase in yield of 10.9 per cent.

“This benefit increased with decreasing management intensity; therefore, providing suitable habitat for insectivorous bird species in close proximity to orchards may improve the biological control of apple pests,” said Dr Peisley.

Avian scavengers played a big role in pastoral landscapes as they helped to remove carcasses from the field, the research further revealed.

“Raptors are likely major contributors to carcass disposal in pastoral landscapes and maintaining key habitat features for these species, for example large paddock trees, is essential for raptor conservation and maximising the ecosystem services they provide,” added Dr Peisley.

In her study, she also found out that farmers that erected artificial perches in their vineyards encouraged presence of predatory birds, such as the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen).

Auatralian Magpie

“Artificial perch sites recorded 50 per cent less grape damage than control sites without perches, suggesting that providing artificial perches in vineyards may help reduce bird damage to grapes,” says Dr Peisley.

“These results highlight the importance of including both environmental variables and functional traits in examining bird relationships with ecosystem function,” added Dr Peisley.

More on the research

Reference: Peisley, R. (2017). The benefits and costs of bird activity in agroecosystems