Habitat & Conservation  |  06/18/2024

Linear Habitat Enhances Canola and Pheasant Production


PF on the Landscape: Canada

By Ken Bailey

In late 2022, Pheasants Forever Canada (PFC) launched the Save the Edges campaign (visit savetheedges.ca), a program intended to bring public awareness to trespass farming.

Trespass farming is the illegal cultivation of roadside ditches and undeveloped rights-ofway. Typically owned by the province and managed by local municipalities, these strips of habitat often provide the only refuge for a wide range of birds, mammals, insects and reptiles in southern Alberta’s heavily cultivated landscapes.

PFC recognized that when left intact, these ribbons of natural vegetation not only provide critical wildlife habitat, especially for pheasants and other ground-nesting birds, but also play an important role infloodattenuation, waterpurification through the absorption of excess nutrients, and carbon sequestration.

Now, as reported in the November 2023 issue of The Canola Digest, research is showing that agricultural producers can also benefit by retaining, rather than cultivating, these strips.

The article summarizes two research projects evaluating the impacts of natural habitat on adjacent canola fields.

In the first study, researchers explored whether natural habitats serve as insect reservoirs and whether or not they contribute to canola yield. The key result of the research indicates that non-crop areas within or near canola fields can serve as both a source and a destination for insects beneficial to canola production. These uncultivated areas harbor reservoirs of insects that provide meaningful benefits to canola, including pollination and pest control.

A correlating study in Alberta, covering 60 million acres of canola, showed that the counties where fields have the greatest number of acres of non-cropped area produce slightly higher canola yields. One reason suggested for this is that the non-cropped areas serve as hotspots for beneficial insects that spill over into canola fields, increasing visits to canola flowers.

A second research project still underway is examining the relationship between the diversity and abundance of beneficial insects and canola production in western Canada. This study is specifically looking at the role of natural habitats near canola fields as reservoirs for pollinators and natural enemies of canola pests, as well as the subsequent effect on canola yield.

Early data appears to show that these natural areas do indeed function as reservoirs, and therefore may help control populations of natural canola pests. The results of this research serve to reinforce the belief that, when left intact, these linear strips of natural vegetation provide a broad suite of societal benefits, including habitat for pheasants and other upland birds.

Ken Bailey is a member of the Pheasants Forever Canada Board of Directors

This story originally appeared in the 2024 Summer Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a member today!