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Title: Bird predation and landscape context shape arthropod communities on broccoli

Birds increase crop yields via consumption of pests in some contexts but disrupt pest control via intraguild predation in others. Landscape complexity acts as an inconsistent mediator, sometimes increasing, decreasing, or not impacting pest control. Here, we examined how landscape context and seasonal variation mediate the impact of birds on arthropod pests and natural enemies, leaf damage, and yields of broccoli (Brassica oleracea) on highly diversified farms that spanned the USA west coast. Our study had two complementary components: a bird exclusion experiment and molecular diet analysis of 357 fecal samples collected from the most commonly captured bird species that also foraged in Brassica fields—American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), and White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys). Bird access yielded higher, rather than lower, numbers of pest aphids and increased their parasitism, while no other arthropods examined were consistently impacted. Independent of bird presence, percent natural cover in the landscape sometimes increased and sometimes decreased densities of arthropods in the mid-growth period, with diminishing impacts in the late-growth period. Herbivore feeding damage to broccoli leaves decreased with increasing amounts of natural land cover and in the late-growth period. Molecular diet analysis more » revealed that Brassica pests and predatory arthropods were relatively uncommon prey for birds. Landscape context did not alter the prey items found in bird diets. Altogether, our bird-exclusion experiment and molecular diet analysis suggested that birds have relatively modest impacts on the arthropods associated with broccoli plantings. More broadly, the limited support in our study for net natural pest control services suggests that financial incentives may be required to encourage the adoption of bird-friendly farming practices in certain cropping systems.

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Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Ornithological Applications
Oxford University Press
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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