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Townsend Studies Habitat and Crop Damage


Jason Townsend
Jason Townsend

“Effects of Field and Landscape Scale Habitat on Insect and Bird Damage to Sunflowers,” co-authored by Supervisor of Introductory Laboratories and Lecturer in Environmental Studies Jason Townsend, was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. The article presents the results of a study that focused on how field-margin and landscape-scale habitat affect crop damage and yield.

Over a period of two years, Townsend and fellow researchers from Columbia University, the University of California, Davis, and The Nature Conservancy, studied insect damage, avian abundance, and bird damage in 30 sunflower fields in California’s Central Valley. The study included fields with woody margins and with bare or weedy margins, at varying distances from natural habitat. They covered some areas of the fields to prevent access by birds.

The researchers found that damage caused by moths was far greater in the fields with bare or weedy margins and that birds damaged far fewer sunflowers than insects, regardless of the field margin or landscape habitat complexity. They also found more birds and a greater variety of species in fields with woody margins.

“These results indicate that the benefits of planting or retaining woody vegetation along sunflower field margins could outweigh the ecosystem disservices related to bird damage, while simultaneously increasing the biodiversity value of intensively farmed agricultural landscapes,” the authors wrote.  

Townsend has also been involved in research that found similar effects with alfalfa. He said that other researchers are studying apples, walnuts, and other crops, contributing to “a growing body of research looking to integrate new forms of wild lands into the enormous agricultural landscape!

“Improving habitat diversity within the working agricultural landscape leads to greater biodiversity and simultaneously improves natural pest control services for farmers – a win-win for agriculture and wildlife,” he said.  

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