Flower Strips as an Ecological Tool to Strengthen the Environmental Balance of Fields: Case Study of a National Park Zone in Western Poland
The manuscript is a case study conducted in Wielkopolska National Park, a valuable area located in the temperate conditions of western Poland. The aim of the study was to analyze the species composition of plants in the flower strip two years after sowing a mixture of seeds of perennial plants, and to determine the diversity of the collected arthropods depending on the flowering intensity of plants in the strip.
2. Materials and Methods
The study area covered a 6 m wide and 244 m long flower strip established in an area adjacent to a chemically protected maize crop cultivated in a monoculture system in Wielkopolska National Park (WNP) located in western Poland. This was an area where maize had been grown for several years before. The flower strip was established in the spring of 2021. A total of 37.74 kg/ha of seeds were sown, constituting a mixture composed mainly of perennial plant species. The flower strip was located along the longer side of the maize field. The flower strip was located on averagely good arable soils, in a very good rye complex, quality class IIIb (light clay sands), and a humus layer of about 25 cm.
Botanical field observations were carried out in situ from May to July 2022 (18 May, 14 June, 13 July). One plant species inventory was made in each month and consisted of 5 projections of frames. Inventories of plants were carried out using a metal frame with dimensions of 0.5 m × 0.5 m in a random manner every 50 m along the entire length of the strip. A sampling of five points along the entire transect was made to better average the data from the entire strip. Both species richness and the number of individual species flowering at a given time were inventoried. Due to the need to assess the attractiveness of plants for insects, the number of plants in full bloom [per 0.25 m2] was counted. Whole flowering plants were counted, while in the case of rhizome species and compact inflorescences, which can be considered as one functional pollination unit, flower shoots were counted.
After the plant inventory, the percentage of species in the total number of flowering plants, both from the sown mixture and from the soil seed bank, was determined. One of the factors of attractiveness to arthropods is the color of the inflorescences, so it should be taken into account when choosing a flower mixture for a strip. Therefore, the color of the flowers was also recorded each time. The flower strip was not sheared or grazed during the observation period. No fertilizers or pesticides were used.
In the June–July period (at the time of the most numerous blooming flowers), arthropods were caught using the sweep net method (quickly moving the net back and forth over the flower strip, 25 times directly over the plants). Specimens caught in 25 scoop strokes were assumed as one sample. Arthropods were divided into functional groups: beneficial and potentially harmful. Beneficial arthropods included predators (those catching and eating other organisms, such as insects or mites) and parasitoids (insects that parasitize other insects, their immature stages developing on or inside the host, ultimately killing it) which may affect the number of pests in crops adjacent to the flower strip and pollinators. The numerous arthropod populations causing damage to maize crops (but also cereals and grasses) to which the flower strip was adjoined (as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter) were classified in the manuscript as potentially harmful arthropods (feeding on the main crop). Both groups of arthropods (beneficial and harmful) determined the diversity of the observed arthropods in the studied agrocenosis. The order Hemiptera was additionally described due to the potential role of the caught specimens. Representatives of this order occurred both in the group of harmful and beneficial arthropods and this division was made on the basis of their food preferences and behavior. The percentage share of individual taxonomic groups in relation to all captured arthropods was calculated and their differentiation was presented, depending on the date of observation. The dry weight of individual arthropods was also determined, which is given in grams and applies to all arthropods collected in a given month.
The results were statistically processed using the Statistica 12.0 program (StatSoft Polska, Kraków, Poland). Prior to the analysis, the Shapiro–Wilk test for normal distribution was performed. For normally distributed data, the results were statistically processed by one-way analysis of variance, and the means were compared using Fisher’s least significant difference (LSD) test at a significance level of α = 0.05.
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