Effects of future agricultural change scenarios on beneficial insects

Redhead John W.
Powney Gary D.
Woodcock Ben A.
Pywell Richard F.

Insects provide vital ecosystem services to agricultural systems in the form of pollination and natural pest control. However, there are currently widespread declines in the beneficial insects which deliver these services (i.e. pollinators and ‘natural enemies’ such as predators and parasitoids). Two key drivers of these declines have been the expansion of agricultural land and intensification of agricultural production. With an increasing human population requiring additional sources of food, further changes in agricultural land use appear inevitable. Identifying likely trajectories of change and predicting their impacts on beneficial insects provides a scientific basis for making informed decisions on the policies and practices of sustainable agriculture. We created spatially explicit, exploratory scenarios of potential changes in the extent and intensity of agricultural land use across Great Britain (GB). Scenarios covered 52 possible combinations of change in agricultural land cover (i.e. agricultural expansion or grassland restoration) and intensity (i.e. crop type and diversity). We then used these scenarios to predict impacts on beneficial insect species richness and several metrics of functional diversity at a 10km (hectad) resolution. Predictions were based on species distribution models derived from biological records, comprising data on 116 bee species (pollinators) and 81 predatory beetle species (natural enemies). We identified a wide range of possible consequences for beneficial insect species richness and functional diversity as result of future changes in agricultural extent and intensity. Current policies aimed at restoring semi-natural grassland should result in increases in the richness and functional diversity of both pollinators and natural enemies, even if agricultural practices remain intensive on cropped land (i.e. land-sparing). In contrast, any expansion of arable land is likely to be accompanied by widespread declines in richness of beneficial insects, even if cropping practices become less intensive (i.e. land-sharing), although effects of functional diversity are more mixed.

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Journal of Environmental Management
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