Developing perennial wildflower strips for use in Mediterranean orchard systems
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Cita bibliográficaMockford, A., Urbaneja, A., Ashbrook, K. & Westbury, D. B. (2023). Developing perennial wildflower strips for use in Mediterranean orchard systems. Ecology and Evolution, 13, e10285.
To support sustainable food production and the delivery of ecosystem services through ecological intensification, wildflower strips have become a popular strategy. Despite their success in temperate orchard systems, they remain understudied in Mediterranean ecosystems, which poses a significant barrier to uptake. In order to further promote their adoption, seed mixes must be optimised for commercial orchard systems and for the Mediterranean climate. Plant species should be selected for their consistent performance, whilst the availability of resources for ecosystem service providers determines the quality of the wildflower strip. In this study, the suitability of 12 native perennial forbs and two tussock-forming grass species for wildflower strips in commercial Citrus orchards was assessed over a 3-year period. Distinct resources for natural enemies according to the different plant growth stages were used an indicator of wildflower strip quality. The wildflower strips were managed under two different cutting strategies: (I) standard management, in which wildflower strips were cut once annually in February, and (II) active management, in which wildflower strips were cut two additional times each year. The establishment and success of the sown species were compared. The influence of wildflower strips and their management on plant species richness, community structure, and the provision of resources was compared with a control treatment, in which alleyways were managed conventionally by cutting any naturally occurring vegetation to a height of ≤5 cm, four to five times annual. For the first time, the performance of native perennial plant species has been assessed in Mediterranean orchard systems and a seed mix developed for targeting pest regulation services. The wildflower strips were successful in increasing plant species richness and the available resources expected to support natural enemies. However, only wildflower strips managed with cutting once annually enhanced vegetation cover relative to the control, whilst extending the flowering period. This study therefore provides crucial tools for the further development of sustainable approaches to food production in Mediterranean orchard systems.