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Weeds are vital to the existence of farmland species, study finds
Date:9/29/2011

Weeds, which are widely deemed as a nuisance plant, are vital to the existence of many farmland species according to a new University of Hull study published in the journal Biological Conservation today.

Since many weeds produce flowers and seed, they are an integral part of our ecosystem and together with other crop and non-crop seeds found on farms, they provide food for over 330 species of insects, birds and animals.

Scientists at the Universities of Hull and Bristol examined the distribution of berries and soil-surface seeds collected over an entire year. They built up the first picture of its kind showing which farmland habitats are the most important seed producers and how the seed resources change in different seasons.

Whilst considerable research has linked agricultural intensification with dramatic declines of seed-feeding birds, surprisingly little is known about the wider importance of seeds for other farmland animals, especially insects. Moreover, understanding the dynamics of farmland seed food resources for species of conservation concern is of considerable research interest.

The team of researchers created complex 'food-webs' which linked all farmland insects, birds and mammals which are known to feed on the seeds recorded on a typical organic farm. They used the food-web to identify the key seed-producing plants favoured by most animals. This enabled them to model the impacts of increasing farm management on seed resources and food-web interactions.

Dr Darren Evans, a lecturer in Conservation Biology at the University of Hull and who led the research said: "We understand a lot about farmland birds and mammals, but little about the plants and insects that underpin them. In this study, we discovered not only the importance of weed and non-crop species for many farmland animals but that the vast majority of seed-feeding animals on farms are insects, which are often overlooked by conservationis
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Contact: Claire Mulley
c.mulley@hull.ac.uk
01-482-466-943
University of Hull
Source:Eurekalert

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