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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Small things are important: the value of singular point elements for birds in agricultural landscapes

Pustkowiak, Sylwia; Kwiecinski, Zbigniew; Lenda, Magdalena; Zmihorski, Michal; Rosin, Zuzanna M.; Tryjanowski, Piotr; Skorka, Piotr


Farmland birds belong to the most endangered group of vertebrates in Europe. They are an important component of farmland biodiversity considering the numerous functions they perform (e.g. seed dispersal, improving germination, increasing gene flow, nutrient recycling, and pest control). Therefore, their decline imposes substantial risks on agricultural ecosystems. In general, farmland bird conservation includes land-use and management alterations leading to less-intensive farming and land-sparing for breeding habitats (e.g. agri-environment-climate schemes, and organic farming). However, theoretical concepts describing farmland biodiversity maintenance and applied conservation measures usually ignore the role of singular, often very small, natural or man-made elements in an agricultural landscape. These elements play a role in the populations of certain species, their biology and in the general species richness of farmland. Furthermore, the importance of these elements has never been empirically tested, which means that conservationists and practitioners are not aware of their measurable value for birds. Herein, we define and identify singular point elements in the agricultural landscape (SPELs) which are potentially important for breeding farmland birds. We also describe each SPEL and evaluate its importance for birds in farmland based on a systematic review of the available literature. Using a horizon-scanning technique, we then polled field ornithologists about their personal observations of birds in relation to SPELs and the evaluation of the potential roles of such structures for birds. We identified 17 SPELs that vary in naturalness and age: singular trees, singular shrubs, erratic boulders, puddles, electricity pylons, wind turbines, spiritual sites, hunting platforms, fence and border posts, wells, road signs, scarecrows, piles of manure, piles of brushwood/branches, piles of stones/debris, piles of lime, and haystacks. Analysis of the literature revealed knowledge gaps, because some SPELs are frequently mentioned in ecological studies (e.g. trees, shrubs, pylons), but others such as spiritual sites, stones, hunting platforms, wells, road signs, or piles of lime are ignored. Despite the fact that some authors incorporate the effects of some SPELs in their studies, little research to date has aimed to assess the impact of various SPELs on farmland bird species numbers and distribution. Horizon scanning revealed that ornithologists often observe birds on various SPELs and thus, attribute to SPELs many functions that are important for maintaining bird populations. Horizon scanning also highlighted the importance of SPELs for many declining bird species and suggested possible mitigation of negative changes in the agricultural landscape by retaining SPELs within fields. We suggest that a better understanding of the role of SPELs for farmland birds is required. We also recommend that SPELs are considered as a potential tool for the conservation of birds, and existing conservation programs such as agri-environment-climate schemes and organic farming should be updated accordingly. Finally, we suggest that SPELs are included in predictive models that evaluate habitat suitability for farmland biodiversity.


agriculture; biodiversity; ecosystem services; farmland; landscape ecology; marginal habitat; novel habitat; point processes; singular elements; small landscape features

Published in

Biological Reviews
2021, Volume: 96, number: 4, pages: 1386-1403
Publisher: WILEY

    SLU Authors

    • Rosin, Zuzanna

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Plant Protection Network

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

    UKÄ Subject classification


    Publication Identifiers


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