Organic Farming Benefits Local Plant Diversity in Vineyard Farms Located in Intensive Agricultural Landscapes
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The majority of research on organic farming has considered arable and grassland farming systems in Central and Northern Europe, whilst only a few studies have been carried out in Mediterranean agro-systems, such as vineyards, despite their economic importance. The main aim of the study was to test whether organic farming enhances local plant species richness in both crop and non-crop areas of vineyard farms located in intensive conventional landscapes. Nine conventional and nine organic farms were selected in an intensively cultivated region (i.e. no gradient in landscape composition) in northern Italy. In each farm, vascular plants were sampled in one vineyard and in two non-crop linear habitats, grass strips and hedgerows, adjacent to vineyards and therefore potentially influenced by farming. We used linear mixed models to test the effect of farming, and species longevity (annual vs. perennial) separately for the three habitat types. In our intensive agricultural landscapes organic farming promoted local plant species richness in vineyard fields, and grassland strips while we found no effect for linear hedgerows. Differences in species richness were not associated to differences in species composition, indicating that similar plant communities were hosted in vineyard farms independently of the management type. This negative effect of conventional farming was probably due to the use of herbicides, while mechanical operations and mowing regime did not differ between organic and conventional farms. In grassland strips, and only marginally in vineyards, we found that the positive effect of organic farming was more pronounced for perennial than annual species.
KeywordsConventional farming Disturbance Grassland strip Hedgerow Herbicide Semi-natural habitats
Part of this project was funded by the FP7 EU project “Indicators for biodiversity in organic and low-input farming systems” (GA 227161). We thank Péter Batáry and two anonymous reviewers for providing insightful comments on the manuscript. Bob Bunce and Tiziano Gomiero provided stimulating comments on the manuscript, which improved its clarity. Tommaso Zanetti is thanked for his precious support in the field work. Diego Ivan, Valeria Covre, and Giulia Moresco collaborated for the field work. Giovanni Caniglia and Mariano Brentan helped in the identification of some critical specimens. We are grateful to the owners of the farms who kindly allowed us to work in their vineyards and provided information on farm management. The experiment fulfils the current laws of the country in which it was performed.
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