The crucial role of farm ‘weeds’

The crucial role of farm ‘weeds’

Thistles, clover and buttercup aren't crops - they're mostly regarded as weeds. But a new study out of the UK looks at the interconnections between different crops and animals in farm settings, and finds these weeds playing a potentially critical role in the overall health of the ecosystem.

That's simple enough, and the concept is certainly one understood in the sustainability community. The study goes further, though, and begins to identify degrees to which the presence of different plant species can affect not only animals (bees, birds) but ultimately farm productivity.

Over two years, Professor Memmott and her team of looked at 1501 unique interactions between a total of 560 organisms on one 300 acre farm in Somerset. They found that some groups of animals were more sensitive to the loss of plants than others and that what was bad for one group of animals was not necessarily bad for others.

Dr Michael Pocock, who was involved in running the research, explains why their findings offer good and bad news for biodiversity: "We already know that some wildlife groups are declining on our farms such as pollinators and birds. Our research suggests that focussing on the sustainability of one group of animals may not bring benefits to others, however, we did find that restoring particular plants such as buttercups, thistles and clover could, theoretically at least, rapidly increase biodiversity across the farm."

Read more in Science Codex.

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