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Enhancing ecosystem services in apple orchards: Nest boxes increase pest control by insectivorous birds

Cite this dataset

García, Daniel; Miñarro, Marcos; Martínez-Sastre, Rodrigo (2020). Enhancing ecosystem services in apple orchards: Nest boxes increase pest control by insectivorous birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


Ecological intensification in croplands aims to enhance biodiversity-based ecosystem services, helping to increase yield while reducing agricultural environmental impacts. Identifying ecological intensification tools of wide applicability and easily implemented by farmers is, therefore, an imperative. Here, we verify the efficiency of provisioning artificial nest boxes for insectivorous birds to reinforce pest biological control in apple orchards.

The study was conducted in 24 cider-apple orchards in Asturias (NW Spain) over three years. We compared the effect of insectivorous birds between orchards with and without nest boxes occupied by different bird species, through insectivory estimates based on attack on a sentinel pest and measurements of arthropod abundance in apple trees. We also identified preys that birds of different species captured to feed nestlings.

Bird occupancy of nest boxes was widespread, ranging 25.0-33.3% each year. Great tit was the dominant species, followed by blue tit and, occasionally, common redstart.

Predation pressure on apple pests increased in orchards with nest boxes, as judged by the increased proportion of sentinel models attacked by birds (34.9% increase in 2018 and 41.1% in 2019), decreased biomass of tree-dwelling arthropods (-51.7%) and reduced probability of apple pest occurrence (from 57 to 40%), compared to orchards without nest boxes.

Nesting species showed different predatory roles in apple orchards. Fewer attacks on sentinel pests but lower arthropod biomass was associated with blue tit rather than great tit. Besides, blue tit fed nestlings at a faster rate and included in their diet a higher proportion of apple pests than great tit, which preyed mostly on other herbivorous insects.

Synthesis and applications. We demonstrated the usefulness of nest boxes for insectivorous birds in enhancing biological control of apple pests at a regional scale, identifying tit species as complementary predators of apple pests and herbivores. From the farmers’ perspective, providing nest boxes in orchards may represent an efficient, easy to implement, cheap and attractive measure of ecological intensification, compatible with other actions fostering biodiversity in croplands.