Rowe, Rebecca L.
Implications for biodiversity of the deployment of commercial scale short rotation willow coppice.
University of Southampton, Biological Sciences: Envirommental,
Willow short rotation coppice (SRC) is seen as an important renewable energy source within temperate regions including the UK and its deployment within the agri-environment is supported by a number of goverment policies. Willow SRC represents a significant land use change and its deployment has raised questions regarding the possible impacts on biodiversity and the delivery of ecosystem services. This work assessed the impact of three commercial willow SRC plantations on ecosystem processes through the use of herbivory, decomposition and predation bioassays. Comparisons were also made between the willow SRC plantations and the abundance and diversity of: summer ground flora and winged invertebrates in the alternative land use options of set-aside and cereal crops; predatory ground invertebrates and small mammals in winter wheat and barely. In comparison to cereal crops the willow SRC plantations contained a higher abundance and species richness of ground flora and small mammals, and a higher abundance and family richness of predatory ground invertebrates. Ground flora richness was higher in the set-aside land than within the willow SRC. The ground flora community within the willow SRC was markedly different to both set aside and arable land with a shift from an annual and ruderal to competitive and perennial dominated community. The composition of winged invertebrate Orders also varied between the land uses with higher numbers of Hymenoptera and Hemiptera trapped within the willow SRC plantations than within the arable and set-aside land. No differences were detected on rates of predation on invertebrate prey, seedling herbivory and decomposition between willow SRC and set-aside land. In comparison to cereal crops higher rates of decomposition and higher rates of predation by small mammals in the autumn were recorded in willow SRC. Overall the results suggest that, willow SRC plantations may benefit farm-scale biodiversity by providing a habitat where plants and animals that are uncommon on alternative land use can persist. Moreover positive effects on the species richness of small mammals and the abundance and richness of predatory invertebrates may have positive implication for natural pest control both within willow SRC plantations and possibly on surrounding landscape. Comparisons to set-aside did, however, highlight that willow SRC is not a panacea for all species and care must be taken in the location and fraction of the landscape that is devoted to this crop
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