© shutterstock Muellek Josef
A project of DIVERSITAS aiming at developing a new science agenda for biodiversity in support of sustainable agro-ecosystems
Changes in biodiversity in the agricultural landscapes of the world have largely escaped attention compared to the wider recognition of biodiversity loss in less disturbed landscapes. Yet, agriculture is fundamentally linked to biodiversity. Biodiversity has formed the basis for human food production systems for millennia and plays an important role in the provisioning services, i.e. production of foods, fuels, and fibres. Biodiversity in agriculture also provides cultural services that form key elements of the agricultural knowledge base, and define spiritual and aesthetic values for human societies. In a broader context, biodiversity serves important functions that enhance the environmental resource base upon which agriculture depends, e.g. regulating and supporting services such as water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, natural pest control and soil formation.
Population growth, changes in food demand, conversion to modern, high-input agriculture, land use changes, and the globalization of agricultural markets have caused rapid loss of agricultural biodiversity, and of biodiversity in wildland ecosystems. In fact, a dichotomy has arisen between agriculturalists and conservation biologists, due the growing demand for food, creating a significant impact of agriculture on wildland ecosystems (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Resolving this dichotomy is imperative, in order to conserve biodiversity for its highest potential benefit to agriculture and for the Earth’s life-support system.
How can this problem be resolved? The economist’s approach may provide answers. Agricultural landscapes are part of our natural capital, and the flow of services that they provide is the ‘interest’ on that capital. Just as investors choose a portfolio of produced capital to maintain the return on capital over a range of market risks, so society needs to choose the mix of genes, species, communities, and ecosystems to maintain the flow of ecosystem services over a range of environmental and social risks. This requires understanding the risk implications of changes in that mix that will help to design adequate strategies for agricultural management and conservation biology in order to maintain an ecologically acceptable level of biological diversity on this planet, while addressing problems of poverty and food insecurity.
Science is not in a position to offer adequate support to decision makers, because it has not yet addressed these tradeoffs between food production, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and human well being in agricultural landscapes, and does not account for the large variation in biophysical and socio-economic settings under which agriculture is practiced. The agroBIODIVERSITY project of DIVERSITAS aims at inspiring and facilitating a new generation of research on this topic. This science agenda recognises that a fundamentally new approach to the science and management of agricultural landscapes is needed and that agricultural landscapes need to be considered as systems providing a range of services in addition to food, fuel and fibres. Research activities focus on a set of 8 benchmark agricultural landscapes across the globe, representing different levels of agricultural intensification and a wide range of socio-economic conditions.
For more information and publications please visit the agroBIODIVERSITY website.