Impacts of dryland farming systems on biodiversity, plant-insect interactions, and ecosystem services
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Farming system impacts the structure and functioning of associated biodiversity and plant-insect interactions. However, the extent of these impacts is largely unknown in drylands of the Northern Great Plains, an important region for cereal, pulse, oilseed, and forage production. Using three complementary studies, I compared the impacts of conventional and organic systems on associated biodiversity (weeds, bees, insect pests, and parasitoids), bee-flower networks, and bumblebee colony success. First, I assessed stem cuts by and parasitism on Cephus cinctus (wheat stem sawfly) in spring and winter wheat cultivars grown in conventional and organic fields. I found that organic fields had less C. cinctus infestation and more braconid parasitoids of C. cinctus, indicating an increased pest regulation in organic system. I compared C. cinctus preference and survival on Kamut with Gunnison and Reeder wheat cultivars and found the lowest C. cinctus oviposition and survival in Kamut, suggesting that Kamut is a potential genetic source for this pest. Second, I assessed the impacts of conventional and organic systems on forb and bee communities. I found greater forb diversity and more connected bee-flower networks in organic fields, but bee communities did not differ between systems. Comprising only 12% of the landscape, natural habitat did not affect small-bodied bees in either system but had a positive effect on large-bodied bees at the scale of 2000 m radius. These results indicate that an increased forb diversity and bee-flower interaction in organic fields is not enough to offset the negative effects of landscape homogeneity on bees. Third, I compared Bombus impatiens colony success, worker condition, and colony-collected pollen between farming systems. I found greater growth rate, brood cells, and pollen species richness in B. impatiens colonies as well as lower wing wear and greater body lipid mass in workers from organic fields, than in conventional fields. The greater colony success and better worker conditions could be a proxy for better ecosystem services provided by organic fields. Overall, my studies show that organic farming supports greater associated biodiversity, more complex bee-flower networks, and better biodiversity-based ecosystem services in the Northern Great Plains.