The adequacy of alfalfa crops as an agri-environmental scheme: A review of agronomic benefits and effects on biodiversitye
EntityUAM. Departamento de Ecología
10.1016/j.jnc.2022.126253Journal for Nature Conservation 69 (2022): 126253
Funded byThis paper contributes to project S2018/EMT-4338 REMEDINAL TECM from Comunidad de Madrid and Chair UAM-CTFC-TotalEnergies Steppe-Forward
SubjectsAgri-environmental scheme; Agriculture intensification; Alfalfa; Biodiversity; Ecological restoration and legumes; Medio Ambiente
Rights© 2022 The Authors
Esta obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons Reconocimiento-NoComercial-SinObraDerivada 4.0 Internacional.
The agriculture intensification required to provide enough food commodities for humans has negative impacts on the environment. To reduce these drawbacks Agri-Environmental Schemes (AES) have been implemented in Europe since the last decade of the twentieth century. One of the measures included in these schemes was the introduction of alfalfas in crop rotation systems. In order to evaluate their suitability as an AES, we synthesize knowledge on the agronomical benefits of alfalfa cultivations, as well as on the relationships of alfalfa crops with biodiversity at three taxonomic levels: vascular plants, arthropods, and vertebrates. Based on the articles reviewed, alfalfas can help restoring native grassland communities due to the nutrient enrichment they provide. Moreover, this legume crop usually ensures food resources not only for invertebrates, but also for vertebrates. Alfalfas tend to harbour a stable arthropod community that benefits surrounding crops by improving ecological processes (pollination, pest predation) and reducing the need to use agrochemicals. At the same time, arthropod abundance attracts vertebrates, especially birds, which supports the role of alfalfa as a conservation tool to favour endangered farmland birds. Additionally, alfalfa crops may function as a reservoir habitat for voles, which are a preferred food resource for farmland-foraging raptors, many of them endangered. On the other hand, birds nesting in alfalfa crops may suffer higher nest destruction rates due to frequent cuts, and voles using alfalfa crops may also create agricultural damage in surrounding crops in certain cases. The review also highlights that negative ecological relationships of alfalfa crops with biodiversity can be minimized, and positive effects may also be maximized under the appropriate management of this crop. Examples of such management actions include cut delays or higher cuts to avoid nest destruction, the use of grazing cattle to reduce the impacts of rodent pests, reduced frequency of cutting or maintaining unharvested strips in the field to maximize positive effects on predatory arthropods and vole availability to raptors. We conclude that alfalfa crops can be considered globally beneficial for farmland biodiversity and a useful management tool for conservation in agricultural landscapes, for example as an AES, but that management should be adapted to particular taxonomical or functional groups
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