Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

An index of ecological value for European arable plant communities.

Abstract

The value of arable plant communities from a natural and environmental perspective was recognized only recently. Human-dependent arable plant assemblages are acknowledged to support biodiversity in agroecosystems and to provide numerous ecosystem services. The conservation of such communities relies on low-input, traditional agriculture, which is vanishing worldwide. Both agricultural intensification and land abandonment negatively affected arable plant biodiversity, with a remarkable loss of species and communities of great conservation and ecological interest. In this paper, we introduce a floristic-ecological monitoring tool aiming at the quantification of the ecological value of arable plant communities, named ArEco. Starting from presence-absence community data, the index returns a numerical value derived from species richness and six features of arable vascular plants: life form, Ellenberg nutrient value, alien status, conservation status in Europe, support to pollinator insects, and support to feeding birds. A program for the calculations was written in Java, with a database of about 400 arable plant species. The effectiveness of the tool was tested on 270 arable vegetation plots of different crop types in Italy, a European hotspot of arable plant diversity. The results show that, in the study area, winter arable vegetation has a higher ecological value than summer arable vegetation. In a similar way, extensively managed arable land hosts communities of higher ecological value than those hosted by intensively managed arable land. In view of the present results, ArEco will be a useful tool for monitoring, conservation, and restoration activities of arable plant communities in Europe.