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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2011

Autumn-sowing of cereals reduces breeding bird numbers in a heterogeneous agricultural landscape

Eggers, Sönke; Pärt, Tomas


The switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals and the loss of habitat heterogeneity are often suggested to be key drivers of breeding bird decline on arable farmland. Yet, both factors are interlinked and it remains uncertain whether autumn-sown cereals reduce breeding bird numbers also in the structurally complex arable farmland of northern Europe. We tested whether autumn-sowing of cereals at both local and landscape scales affected the breeding bird community in a heterogeneous agricultural landscape of south-central Sweden. Rotation between sowing types was used as a semi-experiment based on 34 spring- vs. 41 autumn-sown cereal plots centred on infield non-crop islands of similar structure, size and surroundings. Species richness and territory abundance of ground-foraging species were significantly lower in autumn- than in spring-sown cereal plots both in the crop fields and the infield non-crop islands during the breeding season. No such effect was observed among foliage gleaning birds. Species richness in spring-sown cereal plots was less the more autumn-sown crops in the surrounding landscape within a 500 m radius. Average skylark densities did not differ between autumn- and spring-sown cereal plots because habitat preferences changed; densities declined in autumn-sown cereals during the growing season whereas they increased on spring-sown fields which had shorter swards throughout the breeding season. Our results indicate that negative effects of autumn-sown crops on breeding bird numbers spill over into both neighbouring non-crop and crop habitats. We conclude that agri-environmental schemes should place more emphasis on facilitating the value of the cropped area of fields as a foraging and nesting habitat. The retention of various non-crop habitats alone may not provide sufficient food close to nest sites for farmland birds that rely on crop fields for foraging. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Agricultural intensification; Farmland birds; Sowing time; Winter crops; Habitat; Heterogeneity

Published in

Biological Conservation
2011, Volume: 144, number: 3, pages: 1137-1144

    SLU Authors

    • Sustainable Development Goals

      SDG2 Zero hunger

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
      Agricultural Science

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