Relating abundance of agriculturally beneficial organisms to landscape structure

Supervisors

Jeroen Groot (FSE Wageningen UR)
Mirjam Pulleman (SOQ Wageningen UR)

Introduction

Organic and low-input agriculture is strongly dependent on ecological processes of nutrient cycling and pest suppression. These processes are supported by organisms such as earth worms that decompose organic matter and mineralize nitrogen, and insects that can serve as natural enemies for pests. Their abundance is influenced by local conditions (e.g. soil and crop characteristics) and farmers’ practices (e.g. tillage, fertilization), but can also be affected by the structure of the landscape surrounding the agricultural fields. Particular landscape elements may be of specific importance due to a clear role as overwintering or foraging habitat, but the spatial configuration of all landscape elements may also be decisive. This will also depend on the characteristics of the species under study, that differ in dispersal range, feeding behavior and habitat requirements.

Objectives

To analyze the abundance of useful above- or belowground organisms in relation to local habitat conditions and to test the importance of the structure of the landscape.

Procedures

  • Carry out observations in the field (optional, depending spp., season and data availability)
  • Observe elements in one or more case study landscapes
  • Manage and process large datasets
  • Process data into a GIS database and perform spatial analyses
  • Statistical analysis

Experiences gained

  • Preparation of a detailed proposal
  • Learning how to work with GIS-based tools
  • Conducting field observations
  • Interpretation of spatial data
  • Writing an MSc thesis (and preferably a manuscript for a journal) in English