Study: Agricultural Intensification Hurts Olive Grove Productivity

Researchers in Andalusia found that agricultural intensification hurt olive groves by eliminating the natural predators of pests and depleting soil quality.
Oct. 27, 2021
Ephantus Mukundi

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Four years after its incep­tion, the Olivares Vivo project in Andalusia con­tin­ues to yield pos­i­tive results for the role of a bio­di­verse ecosys­tem in tra­di­tional groves.

According to the results of a new study pub­lished in the Journal of Applied Ecology by researchers from the University of Jaén, main­tain­ing veg­e­ta­tion cover and nat­ural areas in olive groves enhanced the diver­sity of species and the func­tions they per­form in crop­lands.

Not only is the loss of species dras­tic, but also the loss of func­tion­al­ity.- Rubén Tarifa, doc­toral stu­dent, University of Jaén

In our study, we found that the diver­sity of species and the func­tions they per­form in the olive grove were neg­a­tively affected by the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the olive grove land­scape and the inten­sive man­age­ment of the plant cov­ers,” said lead researcher Rubén Tarifa, a doc­toral stu­dent in the university’s depart­ment of ani­mal and plant biol­ogy and ecol­ogy.

See Also: Intensive Olive Farms Contribute to Desertification in Spain, Experts Warn

The rare species were the most affected in this process,” he added.

According to the study, inten­sive agri­cul­tural prac­tices in olive groves usu­ally cause loss of bio­di­ver­sity by exert­ing intense pres­sure on plants, birds and insects, which are crit­i­cal for con­trol­ling com­mon olive tree pests.

Not only is the loss of species dras­tic, but also the loss of func­tion­al­ity,” Tarifa said. Furthermore, until now, it was unknown whether inten­sive agri­cul­tural prac­tices could be affect­ing the rarest species, tax­o­nom­i­cally and func­tion­ally, or on the con­trary, those that are more com­mon or dom­i­nant.”

It is known that, in cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties, rare plants play a very impor­tant role within the com­mu­nity, sup­port­ing irre­place­able func­tions within the ecosys­tem,” he added. For all these rea­sons, we pro­posed this study.”

Just like in pre­vi­ous stud­ies, the researchers found that agri­cul­tural inten­si­fi­ca­tion depleted veg­e­ta­tion cover with rare plants bear­ing the brunt of the pres­sure exerted by these types of farm­ing prac­tices.

Intensification was found to impact plants’ abil­ity to repro­duce through recur­rent plow­ing and the use of her­bi­cides. When her­bi­cides are used for pro­longed peri­ods, there is a risk of deplet­ing the seeds of cer­tain plants. This leads to those plants being removed from the land­scape, even when they are in dor­mant states.

In other instances, inten­si­fi­ca­tion indi­rectly impacts plants by inter­fer­ing with ani­mals that are crit­i­cal for the exis­tence of those plants, such as pol­li­na­tors. Since rare plants con­tribute to func­tional rich­ness dis­pro­por­tion­ately, their deple­tion usu­ally com­pro­mises the integrity of dif­fer­ent eco­log­i­cal processes.

During the study, researchers sam­pled plant cover from 40 olive groves in the provinces of Málaga, Jaén, Córdoba, Cádiz, Granada and Seville.

The researchers con­cluded that since weed cover plays an essen­tial role in sup­port­ing the fauna of per­ma­nent crop­lands, such as olive groves, and their pro­duc­tion, agri-envi­ron­men­tal schemes in these crop­lands should adopt low-inten­sity prac­tices that favor the func­tion­al­ity and diver­sity of ecosys­tems.





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