Combining costs and benefits of animal activities to assess net yield outcomes in Apple orchards

Manu E. Saunders, Gary W. Luck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Diverse animal communities influence ecosystem function in agroecosystems through positive and negative plant-animal interactions. Yet, past research has largely failed to examine multiple interactions that can have opposing impacts on agricultural production in a given context. We collected data on arthropod communities and yield quality and quantity parameters (fruit set, yield loss and net outcomes) in three major apple-growing regions in south-eastern Australia. We quantified the net yield outcome (accounting for positive and negative interactions) of multiple animal activities (pollination, fruit damage, biological control) across the entire growing season on netted branches, which excluded vertebrate predators of arthropods, and open branches. Net outcome was calculated as the number of undamaged fruit at harvest as a proportion of the number of blossoms (i.e., potential fruit yield). Vertebrate exclusion resulted in lower levels of fruit set and higher levels of arthropod damage to apples, but did not affect net outcomes. Yield quality and quantity parameters (fruit set, yield loss, net outcomes) were not directly associated with arthropod functional groups. Model variance and significant differences between the ratio of pest to beneficial arthropods between regions indicated that complex relationships between environmental factors and multiple animal interactions have a combined effect on yield. Our results show that focusing on a single crop stage, species group or ecosystem function/service can overlook important complexity in ecological processes within the system. Accounting for this complexity and quantifying the net outcome of ecological interactions within the system, is more informative for research and management of biodiversity and ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0158618
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016

Grant Number

  • DP140100709


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