Experimental field exclosure of birds and bats in agricultural systems — Methodological insights, potential improvements, and cost-benefit trade-offs
Paper in refeered scientific journals
Experimental exclosure of birds and bats constitutes a powerful tool to study the impacts of wildlife on pests and crop yields in agricultural systems. Though widely utilized, exclosure experiments are not standardized across studies. Indeed, key differences surrounding the design, materials, and protocols for implementing field-based exclosure experiments of flying vertebrates increase heterogeneity across studies, and limit our understanding of biodiversity-friendly land use management. We reviewed the available literature on studies in which bird and bat exclosures were applied to study pest control in agricultural settings, and isolated 30 studies from both tropical and temperate land use systems, involving 12 crop types across 14 countries. Focusing on exclosure effects on crop yield, we analyzed effect detectability for a subset of suitable data. We then analyzed the potential of exclosure methods and possible extensions to improve our understanding of complex food webs and ecosystem services affecting the productivity of agricultural systems. While preferences exist in materials (e.g., nylon nets and bamboo frames), experimental exclosure studies of birds and bats differed greatly in their respective design, related costs, and effort — limiting the generalization and transferability of results at larger spatial scales. Most studies were based on experiments conducted in the United States and the Neotropics, mainly in coffee and cacao farms. A lack of preliminary or long-term data with repeated measurements makes it impossible to apply power analysis in most studies. Common constraints include, among other things, the choice of material and experimental duration, as well as the consideration of local versus landscape factors. We discuss such limitations, related common pitfalls, and options for optimization to inform improved planning, design, and execution of exclosure studies. By doing so, we aim to promote more comparable and transferable approaches in future field research on biodiversity-mediated ecosystem services.