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The use of biological indicators as tools for assessing the impact of agriucultural practices in sustainability of olive grove

Project Type
Nac / Pub
Financial Program
PTDC - Projectos em todos os domínios científicos
Funding Value
Principal Investigator
Sónia Alexandra Paiva Santos

Olive grove is a significant land use type in southern Member States of the EU where it has a multiple importance particularly in what concerns to economic, social, cultural and landscape aspects. In Portugal, Alentejo and Trás-os-Montes regions represent the two most important production regions of olive oil, accounting for 41.7% and 20.8%, respectively of the Portuguese olive cultivation.Because of that, olive growing can be model for sustainable land-use in the Mediterranean region, producing highly-valued foodstuffs and environmental benefits, while helping to maintain populations in marginal areas. In this sense, governments have developed legislation to regulate and support olive groves cultivated under sustainable practices, by controlling pesticides and fertilizers release. This has created a need for reliable estimating and monitoring of the quality and sustainability status of agro-ecosystems. Biological indicators of farming practices have been indicated as suitable tools for management and political purposes within agricultural landscapes but there is a considerable lack of indicator species for sustainability evaluation. Olive groves located in Trás-os-Montes (in the North) and Alentejo (in the South) will be selected according an increasing gradient of farming practices intensity (i.e., organic farming, integrated production and conventional regimes) (task 1). Similarly, landscape features will be observed as part of the agricultural landscape resulting in a new approach where both farming practices and landscape spatial pattern (shape, size, number and distribution of patches) will be analysed. The concept of Hemeroby will be introduced as surrogate for land-use intensity and a sustainability measure index for agricultural landscapes. Then, arthropods will be collected from tree canopy and soil (epigeal and mesofauna arthropods) in each selected site (task 2). In task 3, both ecomorphological and taxonomic (at species level) identification of arachnids, formicids and coleopterans till the species level will be done, since they represent about 80% of total predaceous arthropods in olive groves. Mesofauna arthropods, as important component of any ecosystem, will also be eco-morphological and taxonomically identified, resulting in a completely new approach for the olive grove. All these groups have been widely recommended as bioindicators. Furthermore, a set of environmental variables such as pesticide applications, fertilizations, tillage, soil properties and pest population levels will be collected (task 4). In the last task (task 5) biodiversity descriptors of arthropod communities (e.g. abundance, richness of taxa, dominance and diversity) will be calculated and environmental data collected in tasks 1 and 4 will be integrated in a data basis. An important part of data analyses will be the identification of relationships among environmental variables collected from agricultural landscapes (given by farming practices and landscape structure) and biodiversity descriptors through multivariate analyses. To reach the objective, the formulation and testing of hypotheses according to the correlative patterns found will fine-tune results and will allow the development of appropriate indexes that will indicate bioindicator species for the olive grove. Both IndVal methodology and Biological Quality of Soil index will be used, but the development of new methodologies is also an important goal of this project. Potentially, the results could lead to improve viability of sustainable systems, mainly if included into organic olive production, as demand for organically grown olive products is rising and consumers are willing to pay higher prices for superior quality olive oil. Better marketing of olive oil might in this way, constitute an important driver for the development of biological indicators based on arthropod community, as assessment tools of the sustainability of this agro-ecosystem.

Project Team

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