The Self-Seeding of Anthemis arvensis L. for Cover Crop in Olive Groves under Intense Rabbit Grazing
Carpio Camargo, Antonio José
Gómez, José A.
Sánchez Tortosa, Francisco
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Cover crops can be an effective means to protect soil and reduce risks of erosion in olive groves. However, for this protection to be significant, the vegetation must attain a significant amount of ground cover, which is estimated to be at least 30% during the rainy season. In olive groves on degraded soils, which occupy large surface areas in the olive-growing areas of the Mediterranean region, the establishment of cover crops may be an arduous challenge, particularly in areas with a high density of rabbits. In this study, we have selected two olive orchards with scarce natural vegetation located in Andalusia (southern Spain), in which rabbit populations intensively forage the cover crops, to test whether the self-seeding of an unpalatable species corn chamomile (Anthemis arvensis L.; A. arvensis for short) could achieve sufficient coverage for soil protection, in the year following that in which the broadcast-seeding was carried out for the implementation of cover crops. The hand broadcast-seeding of A. arvensis was carried out on sixteen elementary plots in the lanes of the two olive orchards in the autumn of 2015, and seed germination in the subsequent self-seeding took place in the autumn of 2016. The plant height and A. arvensis ground cover in these plots were measured throughout the two growth cycles, and aerial biomass was measured at maturity. The results showed that there were no significant differences in the maximum plant height between the two growth cycles (mean ± SD of 21.2 ± 1.6 cm), while the ground cover was significantly greater in the case of self-seeding, especially during the winter (37.2 ± 8.1 and 9.3 ± 6.7% for self-seeding and broadcast-seeding, respectively), and aerial biomass at maturity had more than doubled (99.7 and 43.9 g m−2, respectively). These data suggest that this unpalatable species could establish an effective herbaceous cover by means of self-seeding in olive groves on degraded soils that are being overgrazed owing to the high pressure of rabbits. Despite the poor establishment in the broadcast-seeding year, our findings indicate that A. arvensis might be an alternative cover crop that could help the sustainability of these threatened olive groves. Its high seed production (2000 to 4000 seeds per plant), and an early emergence just after the first autumn rains, should result in an increased ground cover by A. arvensis during the rainy season in the subsequent years of self-seeding. This, therefore, could contribute to soil conservation, in addition to providing other benefits of increased biodiversity and improvement for agricultural landscapes.