Effects of agricultural intensification on plant diversity in Mediterranean dryland cereal fields.
Agricultural intensification, at field and landscape scales, has caused a decrease in weed richness and changes in species composition. In order to prevent this loss of diversity and develop efficient management regimes, it is important to understand how both aspects of intensification affect plant diversity and the way in which they interact. This study assessed plant diversity at the centre, edges and boundaries of 29 organic and 29 conventional cereal fields distributed in 15 agrarian localities of the NE Iberian Peninsula. We focused on the composition of plant assemblages and on the specific richness at the field level, which was calculated for the whole set of species and for that of characteristic arable weeds. The percentage of arable land together with human settlements was used as a surrogate for landscape complexity and the amount of nitrogen inputs for land-use intensity. Our results show that both scales of agricultural intensification have a similar negative effect on the total plant species and characteristic arable weed richness, and they also affect plant assemblages. Furthermore, we found no strong interaction between landscape and land-use intensity for explaining total plant richness. The relative importance of farming intensity and landscape varies depending on the location within the field, which can be attributed to differences in the agricultural impact and limited seed dispersal from adjacent habitats. Management is the main factor in explaining differences among field centres, whereas changes at boundaries are mainly due to landscape characteristics, and at edges both factors are relevant. Synthesis and applications. To preserve agricultural plant diversity it is equally important to prevent agricultural intensification at field and landscape scales. Policies enhancing low-intensity management techniques, such as organic farming, are the main way to promote diversity inside the fields and will be equally beneficial in simple and complex landscapes for total plant species richness. To maintain diversity within agricultural areas, it is also important to reduce farming intensity at the edges, which would favour characteristic arable weeds and margins' overall plant diversity.