The ecological significance of species diversity within agroecosystems has become a point of interest in recent years. Although the time and spatial scale at which diversity is measured may influence the interpretation of its functional importance, little research has been conducted on methodological approaches to assess the number and relative abundance of agricultural plant species. In this study, we (1) evaluated the applicability of the species-area curve to examine plant species richness and α and β diversity in conventional no-tillage and organically managed spring wheat systems, and (2) assessed temporal changes in plant species richness across systems. Measurements were obtained at three times during two growing seasons in experimental plots and at three times during one growing season on commercial farms in Montana. In accordance with previous studies, management system affected species richness and diversity. In eight of nine studied cases, we detected a positive relationship between species richness and sampled area. In these eight cases, intercepts (α diversity) were higher for the organic systems than for the conventional no-tillage systems. Slopes (β diversity) were higher for the organic system in six of nine cases studied. Species richness declined as the season progressed for both systems, with the organic systems consistently having more species than the conventional no-tillage systems. Despite differences in the species composition and between the experimental plots and commercial farm field size, the patterns of species richness and α and β diversity were relatively constant, suggesting that the processes responsible for the assembly of plant communities in agroecosystems of the Northern Great Plains are similar at a range of spatial scales.
Nomenclature: Wheat, Triticum aestivum L.