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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Effects of Ground Cover Management on Biotic Communities, Ecosystem Services and Disservices in Organic Deciduous Fruit Orchards in South Africa

Birkhofer, Klaus; Addison, Matthew F.; Arvidsson, Fredrik; Bazelet, Corinna; Bengtsson, Janne; Booysen, Ruan; Conlong, Des; Haddad, Charles; Janion-Scheepers, Charlene; Kapp, Caro; Lindborg, Regina; Louw, Schalk; Malan, Antoinette P.; Storey, Sheila G.; Swart, Wijnand J.; Addison, Pia


Organic orchards may have higher biodiversity and levels of ecosystem services compared to conventionally managed orchards. However, it is not well-understood how management decisions within organic orchards alter biotic communities and ecosystem services. The simultaneous provision of individual ecosystem services and mitigation of disservices is crucial for organic growers who cannot replace natural regulatory processes by artificial inputs. This study addresses one of the major constraints for organic fruit production in South Africa, namely the availability of strategies for pest control and nutrient management in soils. Partly due to these constraints, organic certification of deciduous fruits is very uncommon in South Africa and limited our selection of study plots. A field experiment on a single farm was established to study the impact of a treatment with dead organic mulch compared to controls on the composition of biotic communities, the simultaneous provision of ecosystem services, and the mitigation of disservices in five organic deciduous fruit orchards in the Western Cape province. Mulching did not significantly reduce weed cover or alter the taxonomic composition of weed communities, but affected soil organisms. Mulched subplots had significantly higher densities of Collembola and phytophagous nematodes and lower microbial activity and woodlice numbers. Independent of mulch treatment, both orchard type (conventional: apricot and organic: apricot, peach, plum, and quince) and weed cover had pronounced effects on the composition of biotic communities and ecosystem service and disservice potentials. The community composition of plants, microbes and web-building spiders differed significantly between organically and conventionally managed plots. The composition of communities and levels of ecosystem service and disservice potentials also differed significantly between organic orchards of different fruit type. Two potential pest groups (phytophagous nematodes and arthropods) were most abundant in peach subplots with high weed cover and tree age and least abundant in conventionally managed apricot plots. These results emphasize the crucial importance to consider weed-microbe-animal interactions when developing management practices in organic orchards. Management decisions in organic orchards hold the potential to affect biotic communities to the benefit of pest control and soil nutrient services, but can also result in unexpected detrimental effects on ecosystem services.


biodiversity; community composition; ecosystem disservices; farm management; multiple ecosystem services; organic farming; synergies; trade-offs

Published in

Frontiers in Sustainbale Food Systems
2019, Volume: 3, article number: 107

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