Native cover crops enhance arthropod diversity in vineyards of the Cape Floristic Region

  • Michelle EckertEmail author
  • Letodi L. Mathulwe
  • René Gaigher
  • Lize Joubert-van der Merwe
  • James S. Pryke


Cover crops can enhance biodiversity in perennial agroecosystems, with native cover crops potentially having additional biodiversity benefits. We assessed the effect of native cover crops on vineyard arthropods in the Cape Floristic Region using pitfall traps and vacuum sampling. Generalized linear mixed models and Permanova analyses were used to compared the abundance, species richness and assemblage structure of soil surface-active (free living arthropods found on the soil surface) and plant-dwelling arthropods (arthropods found predominately on the vegetation). We also used model selection and BIO-ENV to determine environmental drivers of arthropod diversity among three treatments of vineyards with bare ground, exotic cover crops or native cover crops, and nearby fynbos remnants as reference sites. Vineyards with native cover crops had significantly higher overall plant-dwelling species richness (52.57 ± 3.03), compared to exotic cover crop (28.64 ± 2.66), bare ground vineyards (18.57 ± 2.98) and even the fynbos sites (21.29 ± 1.78). A similar trend was found for overall plant-dwelling arthropod abundance. In contrast, surface-active arthropod richness was not influenced by treatment, whereas surface-active abundance was higher in less densely vegetated sites. Generally, plant-dwelling arthropods responded strongly to vegetation-related variables, whereas surface-active arthropods were responsive to soil-related parameters. Assemblages in vineyards with native cover crops did not resemble those in the natural reference sites as expected, likely due to disturbance factors, and plant compositional and structural differences. However, both surface-active and plant-dwelling assemblages had a high proportion of unique species in the native cover crop than found in the other treatments. Our results show that native cover crops enhance foliar arthropod diversity over and above exotic cover crops and contributes to farm-scale compositional heterogeneity. It therefore has potential to reduce arthropod diversity loss within farmlands and to contribute to more resilient vineyard agroecosystems.


Agroecosystem Arthropod Biodiversity conservation Cover crops Farmland biodiversity Vineyards 



We thank Cape Nature for granting us the permission to collect specimens within the Western Cape (Permit Number AAA007-00144-0056) and the landowners, winemakers and managers of the selected farms for granting us access to their properties. A special thanks to the DST/NRF Global Change, Society and Sustainability Research Programme (Future-Proofing Food Programme) for the sponsorship of the project, the field assistants (Huysamer A.J., Mayne C.A. and Dintwe K.K.) and others who provided guidance with the identification of arthropod specimens and arthropod sorting techniques (Dreyer J.H., Deacon C. and Theron J.).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All authors have been involved in substantive work leading to the manuscript. We confirm that this work is original and has not been published elsewhere nor is it currently under consideration for publication elsewhere. This research study involved the collection of invertebrates, which does not require ethical clearance.

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Conservation Ecology and EntomologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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