Preserving biodiversity in food production

University of Göttingen
Wednesday, 22 May, 2019

Preserving biodiversity in food production

Researchers at the University of Göttingen are calling for coordinated approaches that combine nature conservation and agricultural production in sustainably managed landscapes.

In nature conservation and agriculture, there are two opposing views of how to combine high biodiversity and sustainable food production: nature conservation should either be integrated into agricultural land or segregated into protected areas in order to enable maximum yields in the food production areas.

Published in the journal People and Nature, the authors state “land‐sharing (i.e. wildlife‐friendly farming systems) and land‐sparing (i.e. separation of high‐yielding agriculture and natural habitats) are not mutually exclusive”. Land‐sharing promotes ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, and land‐sparing is important for the conservation of species that are incompatible with agricultural production, the researchers explained.

“Many researchers argue that agricultural production on existing land should be intensified to increase yields while reducing agricultural pressure on the last areas of wilderness. This approach is being pursued primarily in tropical countries,” said Dr Ingo Grass from the Division of Agroecology at the University of Göttingen, first author of the study.

“However, biodiversity and agriculture are often closely intertwined and many species are also beneficial to the farmer. In the agricultural landscapes of Europe, many species worth protecting have adapted to extensively cultivated habitats. These species are threatened by increasing agricultural intensification,” said Professor Teja Tscharntke, Head of Division.

The researchers advocate combining these two opposing views, and suggest the various landscape elements and habitats should be connected by hedges or strips of land to benefit biodiversity and people.

“Modern and sustainable agricultural landscapes require protected areas and high-yield food-production areas, untouched habitats as well as extensively farmed areas. This combination not only enables the highest species diversity, but also promotes ecosystem services such as pollination and biological pest control by insects and farmland birds. These are essential for sustainable agricultural production,” explained Grass.

Image credit: © Ziegler

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