Cherry trees attract pollinating insects such as the dark ground bumblebee (Bombus terrestris). Photo: Felix Fornoff
The decline in pollinating insects is partly due to the lack of trees and shrubs in intensively farmed agricultural landscapes. So as part of the INTEGRA project a team led by Dr. Christopher Morhart and Prof. Dr. Thomas Seifert from the Chair of Forest Growth and Dendro-ecology at the University of Freiburg is studying the ways in which trees and shrubs are suited as a habitat for pollinating insects in agricultural areas. Together with Prof. Dr. Alexandra-Maria Klein and Dr. Felix Fornoff from the Chair of Conservation and Landscape Ecology, junior professor Dr. Cathrin Zengerling from the Chair of Transformation towards Sustainable Energy Systems as well as Dr. Sebastian Gayler from the Institute of Soil Science and Land Evaluation at the University of Hohenheim the researchers are recording the range of blossom and nesting places offered by different trees and shrubs around the year. Their results will form the basis for a freely-available software tool for re-planning agricultural systems.
Providing optimal protection for pollinating insects
The scientists are analyzing not only the side effects and interactions between trees and shrubs but also the agricultural crops. This includes them considering various aspects such as how trees affect the lighting regime, or how carbon storage takes place in the trees. Using eco-physiological models that also take plant growth into account, these interactions are then quantified and together with the findings form the basis a high-resolution spatial modeling of the entire system.
The results of this modeling will then be used by the researchers to develop a freely-available software tool to aid the spatial planning of the habitat characteristics of agricultural systems. The software tool integrates existing data with new data from the project about the contribution of trees and shrubs to agricultural landscapes, to ensure a year-round supply of diverse food for typical pollinating insects such as honey bees, solitary bees, bumblebees and hoverflies, and optimize the availability of nesting places. The software tool will enable farmers as well as landscape planners and the authorities to virtually arrange trees and shrubs spatially and to quantify the effect on pollinating insects regarding the suitability of areas as a potential habitat for them. Consequently, users of the tool can plan-in protection and support for pollinating insects in the areas and then implement it optimally.
Legal framework for agroforestry systems
Besides their work in the area of natural sciences, the INTEGRA project researchers are focused on revising the legal framework for the combined farming systems, known as agroforestry systems, that arise from the integration of trees and shrubs in agricultural systems. “Since there are still considerable gaps in this area, reviewing and revising the legal support structure for this system is an elementary part of the project,” explains Morhart. The newly-developed tool will also integrate the legal framework and potential sources of funding, enabling this to be included and taken into account during the planning process.