Farming practices affecting diversity

THE country’s natural abundance and diversity of bees, birds and other insects and plants has been seriously affected by intensive farming practices, a scientific study has found.

The increased use of machinery, the removal of hedgerows, and the greater use of chemicals has led to landscape simplification and degradation and a reduction in the diversity of species across the Irish countryside, the Ag-Biota research discovered.

Dr Gordon Purvis from the UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, who led the five-year project, said: “While bumblebees as a group are still readily found on typical farmland, our findings reveal that their abundance and diversity on moderately-to-intensively managed farmland may have declined by at least 50% over the past 20-30 years.”

The Environmental Protection Agency underlined bumblebees’ vital role in plant pollination, pollinating about 80% of flowering crops, which account for about 33% of the human diet.

Expressing the importance of the honey bee to the earth’s ecosystem, Albert Einstein once speculated “if the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, man would only have four years of life left”.

The report also found the richness and diversity of bird species is strongly linked to the ecological quality of Irish hedgerows and that increased inorganic fertiliser use caused decreased efficiency of soil nitrogen utilisation and undermined the efficacy of atmospheric nitrogen fixation by white clover.

“Where the ecological quality of the hedgerows has been reduced due to the intensification of farming, there has been a marked decline in the diversity of bird species in the breeding season,” says Dr Purvis.

Commenting on the research findings, EPA director Larry Stapleton said the research provided important insights into how the biological diversity of such farmland can be efficiently measured.

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