Using functional traits to quantify the value of plant communities to invertebrate ecosystem service providers in arable landscapes.
1. The loss of farmland biodiversity threatens the sustainability of ecosystem services delivered within agricultural landscapes. The functional trait approach has been successfully used in grassland systems to quantify trade-offs and synergies between services delivered directly by plant communities. Many of the services delivered by arable landscapes, however, depend on invertebrate consumers, and the application of the trait-based approach to these systems depends on quantifying functional relationships between trophic levels.
2. Two data sets of plant and invertebrate communities from a range of annual crops and uncropped land habitats were analysed. The community-weighted means of plant functional traits were calculated for the vegetation samples and used as the explanatory variables in a multivariate analysis of plant species composition across habitats. The constrained axes scores were used in statistical models to explain the variance in associated total invertebrate abundance, phytophagous invertebrates and invertebrate numbers weighted by importance in the diet of farmland bird chicks.
3. The multivariate analysis discriminated between plant communities characterized by ruderal traits (high specific leaf area and early flowering) and those with more competitive traits. More ruderal communities also supported proportionally more invertebrates. The suite of traits included in the analysis explained a greater proportion of the variance in invertebrate abundance between uncropped habitats, as opposed to between annual crops.
4. The overlap between the plant traits that respond to disturbance (functional response traits) and those that affect the abundance of phytophagous invertebrates (functional effect traits) and the diet of farmland birds demonstrates the potential for using common functional metrics to integrate the assessment of an ecosystem service across different habitats particularly on uncropped land where intensity of disturbance is the main environmental driver.
5. Synthesis. The quantification of functional linkages between arable plants and the abundance of their associated invertebrate consumer communities is the first step in extending the trait-based approach to quantify trade-offs and synergies between ecosystem services developed in grassland systems to landscapes dominated by arable crops. However, applying the functional approach to in-crop weed communities and other service providers such as pollinators will require the incorporation of additional response and effect traits.