Can arable field margins be managed to enhance their biodiversity, conservation and functional value for soil macrofauna?
The establishment of grassy strips at the margins of arable fields is an agri-environment scheme that aims to provide resources for native flora and fauna and thus increase farmland biodiversity. These margins can be managed to target certain groups, such as farmland birds and pollinators, but the impact of such management on the soil fauna has been poorly studied. This study assessed the effect of seed mix and management on the biodiversity, conservation and functional value of field margins for soil macrofauna. Experimental margin plots were established in 2001 in a winter wheat field in Cambridgeshire, UK, using a factorial design of three seed mixes and three management practices [spring cut, herbicide application and soil disturbance (scarification)]. In spring and autumn 2005, soil cores taken from the margin plots and the crop were hand-sorted for soil macrofauna. The Lumbricidae, Isopoda, Chilopoda, Diplopoda, Carabidae and Staphylinidae were identified to species and classified according to feeding type. Diversity in the field margins was generally higher than in the crop, with the Lumbricidae, Isopoda and Coleoptera having significantly more species and/or higher abundances in the margins. Within the margins, management had a significant effect on the soil macrofauna, with scarified plots containing lower abundances and fewer species of Isopods. The species composition of the scarified plots was similar to that of the crop. Scarification also reduced soil- and litter-feeder abundances and predator species densities, although populations appeared to recover by the autumn, probably as a result of dispersal from neighbouring plots and boundary features. The implications of the responses of these feeding groups for ecosystem services are discussed. Synthesis and applications. This study shows that the management of agri-environment schemes can significantly influence their value for soil macrofauna. In order to encourage the litter-dwelling invertebrates that tend to be missing from arable systems, agri-environment schemes should aim to minimize soil cultivation and develop a substantial surface litter layer. However, this may conflict with other aims of these schemes, such as enhancing floristic and pollinator diversity.