Can rolling composite wildflower blocks increase biodiversity in agricultural landscapes better than wildflowers strips?
Biodiversity and abundance of wildlife has dramatically declined in agricultural landscapes. Sown, short-lived wildflower (WF) strips along the margins of crop fields are a widespread and often subsidised in agri-environmental schemes, intended to enhance biodiversity, provide refuges for wild plant and arthropod populations and to provide ecosystem services to crops. Meanwhile, WF elements are also criticised, since their functionality decreases with plant succession, the removal of aged WF strip poses an ecological trap for the attracted arthropod populations and only common and mobile species benefit. Further, insects in WF strips are impacted by pesticides from agricultural fields due to shared boundaries with crop fields and by edge effects. The performance of the measure could be improved by combining several WF strips of different successional stages, each harbouring a unique community of plants and arthropods, into persistent, composite WF block, where successional stages exist in parallel. Monitoring data on many taxa in the literature shows, that a third of species are temporarily present in an ageing WF stip, thus offering composite WF blocks should increase cumulative species richness by 28%-39% compared to annual richness in WF strips. Persistence of composite WF blocks would offer reliable refuge for animal and plant populations, also supporting their predators and herbivores. Further, WF blocks have less boundaries to crops compared to WF strips of the same area, and are less impacted by edge effects and pesticides. Policy implications. Here I suggest a change of conservation practice changing from successional WF strips to composite WF blocks. By regular removal and replacement of aged WF strips either within the block (rotational) or at its margins (rolling), the habitat heterogeneity in composite WF block could be perpetuated. Rolling composite WF blocks change locations over years, and the original location can be reconverted to arable land while a nearby WF block is still available to wildlife. A change in agricultural schemes would be necessary, since in some European countries clustered WF strips are explicitly not subsidised.