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- Materials and methods
1. Assuring future food productivity and security will require that better use is made of pest regulation provided by naturally occurring ecological services. However, empirical evidence of large-scale regulatory effects that might be employed in agriculture is still relatively scarce.
2. Using data from 257 conventionally managed arable fields at the UK national scale, we examine whether changes in the long-term store of weed seed in the seedbank are consistent with regulation by seed predatory carabid beetles.
3. We test three expectations of a simple conceptual model for carabid seed predation. The relationships we estimate are consistent with the model and suggest that carabid predation of weed seeds shed onto the soil surface changes the amount of seed returned to the seedbank bringing about seedbank change and regulation.
4. Granivorous and omnivorous carabids regulated seedbank abundance, with effects being observed on monocotyledon seedbank abundance, in all crops, and on total seedbank abundance, in spring maize and winter oilseed rape; effects that were robust across fields with differing pesticide management and between regions of the UK.
5. We found evidence of density dependence, with increasing amounts of seed rain leading to stronger regulation of the seedbank.
6. Our results also suggest that correlations between seed predators and seed rain abundance, which might be used to infer important effects of seed predators, do not provide sufficient evidence to indicate regulation of the weed seedbank.
7. Synthesis and applications. A major challenge for the future is to manage ecological, pest control services in place of current pesticides with little or no additional risk to productivity and food security. Our work shows that carabid seed predators have regulatory effects on the seedbank that appear general and robust across a range of current cropping and farm management situations at the national scale. Environmental Stewardship methods already exist across Europe to enhance carabid numbers in farmland. This means that carabid seed predators fit within a working framework that could be used to promote integrated pest management alongside or even in place of herbicides.