Optimizing buffer strips for improved ecosystem services

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Project Description: 
The goal of this project is to form a research base that can guide farmers, landowners and policy makers on the enhancement of ecosystem services derived from agricultural landscapes. Investigators hoped to better understand how perennial vegetation can improve conditions for crop production. They compared multiple options for buffer construction and improvement of buffer performance at on-farm sites and offered annual workshops on insects and pollinators.
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Lead Investigator: 
Matt O'Neal
Lead Investigator Affiliation: 
ISU Entomology
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Lead Investigator Bio: 

Matt O'Neal is an assistant professor in entomology at Iowa State University. His research is primarily focused on the development of ecologically and economically sustainable insect pest management systems for soybean. Currently, his laboratory is studying a major new invasive pest of North America. His current projects address the impact of chemical, biological and agronomic management pesticides.

Co-investigator is Lisa Schulte-Moore, associate professor of landscape ecology in ISU's Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. Her research focuses on ecosystem patterning and dynamics in forest and agroecosystems, with emphasis on long time periods, broad spatial scales, and sustainable land management. Much of her work has used landscape modeling techniques. Socioeconomic facets of sustainable land management, in addition to ecological ones, are an expanding component of her current research, and she has experience successfully working in and leading interdisciplinary teams. Schulte teaches courses in ecosystem management, stand dynamics, and landscape ecology, and is a member of ISU's Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture. She is the recipient of ISU's 2007 Award for Early Achievement in Teaching.

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Lisa Schulte-Moore, ISU Natural Resource Ecology and Management

The project objective is to enhance delivery of insect-derived ecosystem services provided by perennial buffers through a strategy of combining research and outreach.

Key Question: 

Are the current buffer strips and conservation practices found in agricultural landscape optimal for improving the abundance and diversity of beneficial insects? If not, what is the best bet for a habitat that could conserve beneficial insects?


Generally, existing buffer strips play a positive role but are not optimal. The best habitat would be buffers that use native flowering forbs that are attractive to beneficial insects in a mixture that provides a flower resource throughout the growing season. A higher density of highly attractive native species is better for beneficials than a high diversity of native species.

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