Quantifying natural values at the farm-scale

Fieldwork will begin on fifty farms in spring.

Over the next two years, our Farm-scale Natural Capital Accounting Natural Values research team will be undertaking a comprehensive sampling program across our 50 farms to quantify the ecosystems services and benefits to biodiversity provided by farm-scale Natural Capital.

We will conduct a range of surveys and experiments to understand how Natural Capital contributes to pollination, pest suppression, soil health and decomposition in production areas, as well as the preservation of native plants and birds.  

We have recruited two passionate PhD candidates to study the relationship between plant diversity and Natural Capital, and the contribution of microbial communities to soil health.

We have a big field season planned for 2021/22. Our research team has a diverse and complementary skill set. Over the spring and autumn months, we will be sampling a range of organisms, including birds, plants, insects and microorganisms.

Firstly, we want to identify relationships between the abundance and diversity of birds with the arrangement and ‘type’ of natural capital present on farms (e.g. shelterbelts, remnant vegetation, woodlots, streamside plantings, as well as paddocks and crops). We will survey birds in each of these ‘ecosystem types’ so we can associate bird diversity with the configuration and condition of these farm attributes at the farm scale.

While our mornings in the field will be focused on birds, the afternoons will focus on ecosystem services.

This time will be spent conducting invertebrate surveys, collecting soil and plant samples, and measuring decomposition. We will relate in-crop measures of productivity and pest damage to the provision of ecosystem services by beneficial invertebrates (pollinators, predators and parasitoids that feed on crop and pasture pests). By sampling along transect lines leading into crops or paddocks from areas of vegetation, we hope to determine the ‘zone of ecosystem service provision at the paddock- and farm scale.

Along with a basic inventory of the species recorded on each farm, this information will be used to generate a series of metrics to represent biodiversity and ecosystem services and incorporated into the farm-scale Natural Capital accounts. This information will be provided to farmers in their customised natural capital accounts at the end of the project.

Fred Rainsford Research Fellow, La Trobe University

Alex Maisey Research Fellow, La Trobe University