• The Agrodiversity Experiment: three years of data from a multisite study in intensively managed grasslands

      Kirwan, Laura; Connolly, John; Brophy, C.; Baadshaug, Ole; Belanger, Gilles; Black, Alistair D; Camus, Tim; Collins, Rosemary; Cop, Jure; Delgado, Ignacio; et al. (Ecological Society of America, 11/06/2014)
      Intensively managed grasslands are globally prominent ecosystems. We investigated whether experimental increases in plant diversity in intensively managed grassland communities can increase their resource use efficiency. This work consisted of a coordinated, continental-scale 33-site experiment. The core design was 30 plots, representing 15 grassland communities at two seeding densities. The 15 communities were comprised of four monocultures (two grasses and two legumes) and 11 four-species mixtures that varied in the relative abundance of the four species at sowing. There were 1028 plots in the core experiment, with another 572 plots sown for additional treatments. Sites agreed a protocol and employed the same experimental methods with certain plot management factors, such as seeding rates and number of cuts, determined by local practice. The four species used at a site depended on geographical location, but the species were chosen according to four functional traits: a fast-establishing grass, a slow-establishing persistent grass, a fast-establishing legume, and a slow-establishing persistent legume. As the objective was to maximize yield for intensive grassland production, the species chosen were all high-yielding agronomic species. The data set contains species-specific biomass measurements (yield per species and of weeds) for all harvests for up to four years at 33 sites. Samples of harvested vegetation were also analyzed for forage quality at 26 sites. Analyses showed that the yield of the mixtures exceeded that of the average monoculture in >97% of comparisons. Mixture biomass also exceeded that of the best monoculture (transgressive overyielding) at about 60% of sites. There was also a positive relationship between the diversity of the communities and aboveground biomass that was consistent across sites and persisted for three years. Weed invasion in mixtures was very much less than that in monocultures. These data should be of interest to ecologists studying relationships between diversity and ecosystem function and to agronomists interested in sustainable intensification. The large spatial scale of the sites provides opportunity for analyses across spatial (and temporal) scales. The database can also complement existing databases and meta-analyses on biodiversity–ecosystem function relationships in natural communities by focusing on those same relationships within intensively managed agricultural grasslands.
    • Alley coppice—a new system with ancient roots

      Morhart, Christopher D.; Douglas, Gerry C.; Dupraz, Christian; Graves, Anil R.; Nahm, Michael; Paris, Perluigi; Sauter, Udo H.; Sheppard, Jonathan; Spiecker, Heinrich; European Commission (Springer, 2014-05)
      Context: Current production from natural forests will not satisfy future world demand for timber and fuel wood, and new land management options are required. Aims: We explore an innovative production system that combines the production of short rotation coppice in wide alleys with the production of high-value trees on narrow strips of land; it is an alternative form of alley cropping which we propose to call ‘alley coppice’. The aim is to describe this alley coppice system and to illustrate its potential for producing two diverse products, namely high-value timber and energy wood on the same land unit. Methods: Based on a comprehensive literature review, we compare the advantages and disadvantages of the alley coppice system and contrast the features with well-known existing or past systems of biomass and wood production. Results: We describe and discuss the basic aspects of alley coppice, its design and dynamics, the processes of competition and facilitation, issues of ecology, and areas that are open for future research. Conclusion: Based on existing knowledge, a solid foundation for the implementation of alley coppice on suitable land is presented, and the high potential of this system could be shown.
    • Assessing the Impact of Pollen-mediated Gene Flow from GM Herbicide Tolerant Brassica Napus into Common Wild Relatives in Ireland

      Collier, Marcus J.; Mullins, Ewen; Environmental Protection Agency; Teagasc; ERTDI 2006-B-MS-46; 2007-B-DS-1-S1 (Royal Irish Academy, 30/04/2012)
      Although now we have had many years of research completed on assessing the potential environmental impact of GM crops, concern remains over their potential impact on biodiversity in the rural landscape. In particular, issues have arisen in regards to the modification of crops with traits that could introgress into sexually compatible wild relatives. In contrast to wheat, barley, potato and maize, Brassica napus (oilseed rape) is the only commercial crop grown in Ireland at present with the potential to successfully transfer its DNA, via pollen-mediated gene flow, into inter-related weed species. This review details the species in question and by examining the relevant literature that relates to Irish agronomic conditions, demonstrates that gene flow is likely to occur, especially to an earlier used cultivar, Brassica rapa. However, the critical factor remains not that GM traits will flow from the commercial source but what might the consequences of said gene flow events be. This review indicates that the conferred trait in question (in this case, herbicide tolerance) can only impact on weed diversity in the presence of selecting herbicide action. In the absence of the herbicide, the GM traits will be lost from the wild species over time and will not confer any selective advantage that could facilitate population growth.
    • Botanical rejuvenation of field margins and benefits for invertebrate fauna on a drystock farm in County Longford

      Sheridan, Helen; Finn, John; O'Donovan, Grace; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Royal Irish Academy, 30/07/2009)
      This study investigates methods to rejuvenate the fl ora of previously degraded fi eld margins on a pastoral farm in County Longford. We also assess the effects of individual treatments on the abundance of various orders of invertebrates recorded within the experimental plots. Field margin treatments were 1.5m-wide unfenced control margins, 1.5m-wide fenced margins or 3.5m-wide fenced margins. Nutrient inputs were excluded from all of the experimental plots. The botanical composition of the plots was examined on four occasions between 2002 and 2004 using permanent, nested quadrats. Emergence traps were used to measure invertebrate abundance within treatment plots and the main sward. Results indicated that 1) exclusion of nutrient inputs had a positive effect on plant species richness within the fi eld margins; 2) plant species richness decreased with increased distance from the hedgerow; 3) herb species richness was greatest in the 1.5m closest to the hedgerow; 4) greater abundance of invertebrates occurred within the 3.5m-wide margins; 5) successful control of Pteridium aquilinum was achieved through spot treatment with the selective herbicide ‘Asulox’; and 6) a combination of management techniques such as cutting and grazing is likely to enhance plant species richness and facilitate the structural diversity of vegetation that is necessary for many invertebrate taxa.
    • Countdown to 2010: Can we assess Ireland’s insect species diversity and loss?

      Regan, Eugenie; Nelson, Brian; McCormack, Stephen; Nash, Robert; O'Connor, James P (Royal Irish Academy, 03/09/2010)
      The insects are the most diverse organisms on this planet and play an essential role in ecosystem functioning, yet we know very little about them. In light of the Convention on Biological Diversity, this paper summarises the known insect species numbers for Ireland and questions whether this is a true refl ection of our insect diversity. The total number of known species for Ireland is 11,422. Using species accumulation curves and a comparison with the British fauna, this study shows that the Irish list is incomplete and that the actual species number is much higher. However, even with a reasonable knowledge of the species in Ireland, insects are such speciose, small, and inconspicuous animals that it is diffi cult to assess species loss. It is impossible to know at one point in time the number of insect species in Ireland and, although it is useful to summarise the known number of species, it is essential that biodiversity indicators, such as the Red List Index, are developed.
    • Field boundary habitats and their contribution to the area of semi-natural habitats on lowland farms in east Galway, western Ireland

      Sullivan, C. A.; Finn, John; Gormally, Michael; Sheehy Skeffington, Micheline; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (Royal Irish Academy, 07/11/2013)
      Sustainable agriculture and the provision of environmental public goods are key deliverables for European farming and food production. Farmland biodiversity, cultural landscapes, soil functionality and climate stability are among the environmental public goods provided through agriculture. Future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) direct payments are intended to be more targeted at the provision of these agricultural deliverables. Field boundaries are an example of such deliverables. They are widespread features that have both environmental and aesthetic functions in farmed landscapes. However, research on their variety, density and contribution to semi-natural habitat cover on farms in Ireland is lacking. This study investigates the diversity and density of all field boundary habitat types on 32 lowland farms in east County Galway, western Ireland. A total of 286km of field boundaries were surveyed across six study sites. Five types of field boundary habitats were recorded. The density of field boundaries on the farms studied was high and could have positive implications for delivery of environmental public goods and sustainable farming metrics. In more intensively farmed areas, field boundaries were the only remaining semi-natural habitat on some farms highlighting the need to retain, and improve the ecological quality, of these features. The condition of one field boundary type (hedgerows) was also investigated in further detail. While the density of field boundaries was high on many of the surveyed farms, we found that the hedgerows on these farms were not necessarily in good condition for wildlife.
    • An insight into the impact of arable farming on Irish biodiversity: A scarcity of studies hinders a rigorous assessment

      O'Brien, Martin; Spillane, Charles; Meade, Connor; Mullins, Ewen; Environmental Protection Agency; 2006-B-MS-46 (Royal Irish Academy, 27/08/2008)
      To help understand and counteract future agronomic challenges to farmland biodiversity, it is essential to know how present farming practices have affected biodiversity on Irish farms. We present an overview of existing research data and conclusions, describing the impact of crop cultivation on biodiversity on Irish arable farms. An extensive literature review clearly indicates that peer-reviewed publications on research conducted in Ireland on this topic are quite scarce: just 21 papers investigating the effect of conventional crop cultivation on Irish biodiversity have been published within the past 30 years. Principally, these studies have concluded that conventional crop cultivation has had an adverse impact on biodiversity on Irish farms, with 15 of the 21 studies demonstrating negative trends for the taxa investigated. Compared to other EU states, the relative dearth of baseline data and absence of monitoring programmes designed to assess the specific impacts of crop cultivation on Irish biodiversity highlight the need to develop long-term research studies. With many new challenges facing Irish agriculture, a research programme must be initiated to measure current levels of biodiversity on arable land and to assess the main farming ‘pressures’ causing significant biodiversity loss or gains in these systems.
    • The Irish Forest Soils Project and its Potential Contribution to the Assessment of Biodiversity

      Loftus, M; Bulfin, Michael; Farrelly, Niall; Fealy, Reamonn; green, stuart; Meehan, R; Radford, Toddy; National Development Plan; European Commission (Royal Irish Academy, 2002)
      The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has proposed methods and thematic areas for data collection that are appropriate to the evaluation of biodiversity. The Heritage Council has identified a paucity of data on habitats in Ireland. Within this context, we outline the Irish Forest Soils (IFS) element of the Forest Inventory and Planning System (FIPS) and present a detailed account of land-cover mapping, which is an important aspect of the project. The IFS project aims to produce a national thematic map of land cover using soft-copy photogrammetry, combined with satellite-image classification and field survey. This aspect of the IFS project generates data on land cover at different spatial and classification resolutions. We report on the progress made to date and present illustrative examples of the data sets. The UNEP proposals provide a useful framework within which to discuss the potential contribution of IFS data to the assessment of biodiversity.