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Biodiversity Monitoring

It was another fascinating year monitoring across project areas...

This year has seen some fantastic progress, both in terms of the biodiversity monitoring data we have been able to collect, the growing sophistication of our collection processes and for emerging results.

As work continues on the FRAMEwork Data Hub, we have developed our thinking around the harmonisation and quality control of datasets, with FRAMEwork representatives from CREAF presenting on this subject at this year’s Digital Earth Symposium.

We have continued to look to the ways Citizen Science activity can complement farmer-led monitoring programmes, with the roll-out of an iNaturalist Citizen’s Observatory across our network, and multiple Farmer Clusters taking part in the international City Nature Challenge and holding training sessions on biodiversity-monitoring for farmers and their local communities.

To discover more about activity like this from 2023, please see our Farmer Clusters Year In Review blog or explore project news items. Read on for some professional biodiversity monitoring highlights from across the project this year.

Biodiversity Monitoring Protocols in Action

The continuing development of project-wide protocols has been a prevalent theme of this year’s work. For example, our Italian consortium partner The Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies (SSSA) have led the way on a new protocol that could prove effective across the project. Based on an innovative approach to community data analysis presented by Ovaskainen et al., (2017) and an early application of it (Purhonen et al., 2020), SSSA have developed a model building on monitoring and analysis of habitat and landscape effects on butterfly communities undertaken in 2021 and 2022, in their local Val Graziosa Farmer Cluster.

This approach has been presented to FRAMEwork and, if validated, it could help analyse project-wide biodiversity data from across our Farmer Clusters. It's great to see project protocols continue to be implemented and innovated on.

SSSA candidate Matteo Dellapiana monitoring the impacts of land management on beneficial insects in the Val Graziosa Farmer Cluster | © SSSA

Results Coming Down the Track

As we enter the penultimate year of FRAMEwork, it is exciting to begin to shape our analysis of the data already collected into actionable conclusions. Staying with our Italian partners, the first results of SSSA’s biodiversity monitoring data indicate that land use diversity and evenness in their reference landscapes are the factors with the highest explanatory power for butterfly abundance data.

Effect of habitat and local landscape factors on butterfly communities | © SSSA

Very similar distribution patterns are obtained when analysing the data of a single butterfly species, including and excluding sampling time and year. It seems that the results are fairly consistent and, more importantly given the high mobility of butterflies, it makes sense that they respond more to overall land use diversity than to the specific habitat where they were observed. We’ll share more emerging results with you at the end of this article after continuing the tour through some of this years’ professional monitoring highlights!

Monitoring Mammals and Birdlife

In the UK, early 2023 also saw FRAMEwork partner The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) complete their winter bird feeding project. Concluding in April, this research initiative allowed local farmers and enthusiasts in Dorset to learn about bird populations and their behaviours. As it turns out, the birds of our Dorset cluster have refined tastes! Monitoring them revealed that feeders stocked with Premium Finch mix were favoured over those with a standard wild bird seed mix. The species that used these feeders were Greenfinch, Yellowhammer, Dunnock, Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wood Pigeon, Pheasant and Rook.

GWCT went on to complete two rounds of bird surveys across April and June, with 24 transects surveyed twice producing 48 surveys total. Their owl tagging project at Cranborne Chase House is also going strong, with two rounds of owl box checks completed and four female barn owls fitted with GPS tags over the breeding season. All of this data is under review, with a paper on farmland bird indicators in the works!

Facilitator Gonzalo Varas and rural guard during monitoring activities | © ARTEMISAN

Meanwhile in Spain, consortium partner Fundación Artemisan continue their programme of thorough and wide-ranging small mammal monitoring. Ongoing since the beginning of the project, this programme aims to evaluate whether the land-management techniques implemented during the five years of FRAMEwork affect key species in the ecosystem.

The Fundación Artemisan team told us a bit about why this monitoring work is important:

“We especially want to address the trends of the red-legged partridge, a species under severe decline owing to intensive agriculture conducted in the olive groves, both for the mechanical farming and pesticides used.”

Partridge (Alectoris rufa) | © ARTEMISAN

Monitoring was conducted March-April (spring pair counts), July-August (summer brood counts) and October (autumn counts) by vehicle through a linear transect. It was carried out twice in a period of two weeks, in both an experimental and control zone. The full list of species comprised small game (red-legged partridges, wild rabbits, hares and thrushes), raptors and songbirds.

Transects monitoring with the linear transect in yellow | © ARTEMISAN

Monitoring Indicator Species: including Pollinators, Vegetation and Soil Life


Another approach to biodiversity monitoring involves selecting an indicator species with a specific function on farmland, and drawing wider conclusions about ecosystem health by monitoring that species. This is something FRAMEwork partner The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) have been exploring in Austria with the Queen of Spain Fritillary butterfly or, in German, the Kleiner Perlmutterfalter.

This species was collectively selected by farmers in the project's Burgenland Cluster at a meeting on May 23rd, on the basis of its importance to arable land and its association with extensive management and biodiversity. Prior to the meeting, BOKU prepared information on a range of potentially suitable species, and facilitated a discussion about which one to choose.

After the meeting, BOKU prepared specific informational materials about the butterfly, and suitable monitoring methods were developed. Existing programs were consulted and the methods used in them were adapted to this monitoring project. In July, they began the project rollout with cluster farmers and other interested farmers in the region.

Some of the micro-arthropods evaluated in the QBS-ar index | © SSSA

Another example of interesting indicator species is provided by SSSA’s trial to investigate whether waste elements, like pomace, can be used to improve soil fertility in organically managed olive groves. When assessing the biological and functional quality of soils, researchers are able to use the presence (and degree of soil adaptation) of micro-arthropods as an indicator of the use and status of the soil. The method they are using is based on the QBS-ar (Biological Quality of Soil-Arthropods) index.

To conduct the trial, SSSA researchers took lumps of soil from the field that are uniform in volume and brought them to the lab, where Berlese funnels help extract the micro-arthropods. The resulting samples, preserved in alcohol, are then evaluated. This trial is currently in progress and due to end in 2024.

When it comes to vegetation monitoring, the data continues to support the conclusion that extensive grassland promotes biodiversity.

We published a blog in May celebrating our Spanish Farmer Cluster’s efforts to showcase the implementation and management of vegetation covers, both natural and project-seeded, as viable solutions to combat the desertification and soil erosion that poses a huge threat to Andalusia’s agroecosystems. Additional monitoring conducted by Fundación Artemisan in the Cazadores de Aguilar Cluster shows that once-degraded olive groves now host thriving biodiversity, with the return of various plant species and butterflies, birds and game species.

In October, our Austrian cluster carried out observations at their newly created species-rich smooth oatgrass meadows. Formerly arable land, these fields were recently re-sown with the species-rich “renatura smooth oat meadow mixture” from Kärntner Saatbau, using reverse rotation tiller and slot seeding. The group monitored insect and bird populations visiting the plants, which included meadow clary, garden burnet and daisy.

Using Technology and Digital Tools

2023 has seen the consortium making sophisticated use of the technology at our disposal, with FRAMEwork partners facilitating the uptake of biodiversity monitoring apps among farmers in their Clusters. For more on this, please read our Farmer Clusters Year in Review 2023.

This digitisation is also something that partners have progressed for professional monitoring. To end back where we started, in Italy, SSA has been implementing new digital workflows in their Val Graziosa Farmer Cluster this year. Data collection for each monitoring activity in the field is now done digitally via a geographic relational database and a QGIS project for each field test. The data is then imported into QField, an open-source mobile application for Android devices and tablets that enables the creation of ad hoc forms for data collection and acquisition of geographic data in real-time. This new process saves a considerable amount of time and allows for greater data accuracy.

Val Graziosa Cluster areas for participatory monitoring and mass trapping of the olive fruit fly | © SSSA

Underpinning all of this fantastic research are rigorous methodologies. Look out next year for a research paper, currently being drafted, about FRAMEwork Farmer Cluster and biodiversity monitoring methods. This paper will consider our monitoring methods and findings in the context of many ecological avenues, exploring how FRAMEwork brings together multiple techniques across different landscape types for comparative study. You can also read more about how biodiversity monitoring findings are being fed back to farmers and used for research on Recodo, the online home of our Farmer Cluster Network. A good place to start is in our Dutch Zeeasterweg Farmer Cluster!


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