AgriWeedClim database – a new collection of data for the study of arable habitats

The post provided by Michael Glaser & Franz Essl

Centaurea cyanus in a wheat field. This species provides ecosystem services in form of pollinators but can also cause yield loss. Photo credit: Franz Essl

This Behind the paper post refers to the article AgriWeedClim database: A repository of vegetation plot data from Central European arable habitats over 100 years by Michael Glaser, Christian Berg, Fabrizio Buldrini, Serge Buholzer, Jana Bürger, Alessandro Chiarucci, Milan Chytrý, Pavel Dřevojan, Swen Follak, Filip Küzmic, Zdenka Lososová, Stefan Meyer, Dietmar Moser, Petr Pyšek, Urban Silc, Alexander Wietzke, Stefan Dullinger, and Franz Essl, published in Applied Vegetation Science (

Arable habitats are fascinating places. They cover roughly one-fifth of Central Europe (Goldewijk et al., 2011) and are home to many (non-crop) species, a considerable amount of which are specialized to their specific environmental conditions. These species have adapted to these habitats by e.g., making their seeds (almost) indistinguishable from crop seeds (e.g. Agrostemma githago), becoming resistant to herbicides (e.g., Papaver rhoeas) and other management measures (e.g., flexible stems in Matricaria matricarioides). Many of them evolved with agriculture and spread to Central Europe following the advent of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent millennia ago (Youssef et al., 2020).

We realized very soon that there was no pre-compiled dataset that would enable us to investigate long-term biodiversity changes in the arable habitats of Central Europe. This led us to request data from the European Vegetation Archive (“EVA”, Chytrý et al., 2016), where we identified almost 40,000 relevés that could potentially serve our needs; however, header data regarding the planted crop, around which management revolves, were sorely missing. While this information may have been available (e.g., in the original publication or header, unstandardized comments fields etc.), screening several hundred publications in half a dozen languages presented an infeasible amount of work, and we instead decided to use the information on crop species contained in the species list of the relevés. After this, it became clear that many relevés received via EVA would have to be excluded because they didn’t contain any crop species. So, we inquired with colleagues and asked them to forward our inquiry to any and all people who might have collected vegetation plots in Central European arable habitats. Lastly, we also digitized some data that had not been previously available via a colleague’s gap-filling database (GIVD EU 00-031). These data-gathering efforts led us to the AgriWeedClim database version 1 (GIVD EU-00-035) and a database of the same name, contributing those data to EVA that had previously not been available.

While sampling the arable/segetal flora was clearly popular with vegetation scientists in the past, and we recognize many names as the authors of these early relevés (e.g. Josias Braun-Blanquet), it seems that sampling these habitats went out of style in more recent years. Notably, for the period from 1990 to the present, we had very few “relevés” in the classical sense, but we could complement our dataset with data from the database “Arable Weeds Management in Europe” (Bürger et al., 2020). These vegetation plots are similar to relevés – they contain information on a specific site with a full census – but use absolute counts (of juvenile plants) as abundance measure instead of cover.  Because individual counts cannot be compared to cover, abundances cannot be unified throughout the AgriWeedClim database. Agricultural databases such as the one mentioned here may still represent a valuable, untapped data source that contains clear documentation of the planted crop and other relevant data for arable habitats, such as crop rotation practised at each site. The reasons for this recent drop in available vegetation plots may very well be our “collection bias”, i.e., the limit of our network of scientific contacts, but we speculate that there may have been a true change of focus for vegetation scientists. Some believe that it is the loss of vascular plant diversity in the later years of agricultural intensification that made these habitats less interesting. In this context, data collection for agroecological science aimed at productivity may have also replaced vegetation science. Currently, we can only tentatively suggest underlying biodiversity trends and changes, so we can only suggest potential applications of the database. Firstly, the progressive intensification of agriculture has changed arable habitats, and many studies have demonstrated that this change has had a pronounced effect on regional biodiversity (Fanfarillo et al., 2019; Meyer et al., 2013; Richner et al., 2017); however, an analysis of effects on larger scales has not been done in Central Europe so far. Second, agricultural activities (e.g., pest management, planting and harvesting) cause disturbances and make arable habitats hotspots of invasions by alien plants with possible negative impacts on agriculture, biodiversity and human health. Third, arable habitats are strongly shaped by changes in human activities (e.g., socioeconomic changes, political and military conflicts) more directly than most other habitats, making them an excellent study system for the influences of these activities on biodiversity. Finally, as arable habitats have been altered by land use intensification and change in the past, future climate change, likely being more severe than what Central Europe has experienced in the past, primes them for further biodiversity turnover and possibly loss. These research interests can be framed in weed management contexts (i.e., ‘Which species will likely spread and exhibit negative impacts?’) just as easily as they can be framed in conservation contexts (i.e., ‘Which species will lose its range?’). Both avenues of investigation offer interesting new perspectives on the effects of direct and indirect human activity on a type of habitats of high socioeconomic and conservation importance that covers one-fifth of Central Europe.

We suspect that there are many untapped data sources from arable habitats that have never been digitized, possibly never even published. These data could aid future studies, and we urge colleagues with access to such data to consider contributing them by contacting the AgriWeedClim database custodian (Michael Glaser, The current version of the database contains 32,889 vegetation plots with noteworthy differences in sampling effort across space and time.


  • Bürger, J., Metcalfe, H., von Redwitz, C., Cirujeda, A., Fogliatto, S., Fried, G., Fu Dostatny, D., Glemnitz, M., Gerowitt, B., González-Andújar, J. L., Hernández Plaza, E., Izquierdo, J., Kolářová, M., Ņečajeva, J., Petit, S., Pinke, G., Schumacher, M., Ulber, L., & Vidotto, F. (2020). Arable Weeds and Management in Europe. Vegetation Classification and Survey, 1, 169–170.
  • Chytrý, M., Hennekens, S. M., Jiménez-Alfaro, B., Knollová, I., Dengler, J., Jansen, F., Landucci, F., Schaminée, J. H. J., Aćić, S., Agrillo, E., Ambarli, D., Angelini, P., Apostolova, I., Attorre, F., Berg, C., Bergmeier, E., Biurrun, I., Botta-Dukát, Z., Brisse, H., … Marcenó, C. (2016). European Vegetation Archive (EVA): an integrated database of European vegetation plots. Applied Vegetation Science, 19(19), 173–180.
  • Fanfarillo, E., Kasperski, A., Giuliani, A., & Abbate, G. (2019). Shifts of arable plant communities after agricultural intensification: a floristic and ecological diachronic analysis in maize fields of Latium (central Italy). Botany Letters, 166(3), 356–365.
  • Goldewijk, K. K., Beusen, A., Drecht, G. Van, & Vos, M. De. (2011). The HYDE 3.1 spatially explicit database of human-induced global land-use change over the past 12,000 years. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 20(1), 73–86.
  • Meyer, S., Wesche, K., Krause, B., & Leuschner, C. (2013). Dramatic losses of specialist arable plants in Central Germany since the 1950s/60s – a cross-regional analysis. Diversity and Distributions, 19(9), 1175–1187.
  • Richner, N., Holderegger, R., Linder, H. P., & Walter, T. (2017). Dramatic decline in the Swiss arable flora since the 1920s. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 241, 179–192.
  • Youssef, S., Cambecèdes, J., & Vela, E. (2020). Is the Mesopotamian region a main source of Western European segetal plants? Botany Letters, 167(2), 290–299.

Brief personal summaries:

Michael Glaser is a PhD student at the University of Vienna in the Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research. His research interests are at the intersection of biodiversity and social/economical processes, especially in the field of biological invasions, as well as modelling biodiversity change.

Franz Essl is an Associate Professor at the University of Vienna in the Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research. His work focuses on conservation research, with a particular approach to biological invasions, climate change and its impacts on the species and habitats, biogeography and the instruments for conservation.