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Cross-cutting Networks

As world population grows, so does the demand for food. But intensive agricultural systems that
focus primarily on maximizing production are known to be one of the main contributors to the current
biodiversity crisis on Earth.

The agricultural sector is in a period of transition, as farmers and social institutions seek to enhance agricultural sustainability while also ensuring viable economic gain. A research framework is needed to evaluate the biodiversity change that arises during these transitions. We must engage a range of experts, including geneticists, ecologists and economists, in a thorough scientific evaluation to assess the trade-offs of various agriculture systems.

Prof. Louise Jackson, University of California (Davis), USA
Chair, agroBIODIVERSITY Task Force

Photo: Cows pulling a cart   Photo: Tilled field   Photo: Cultivated field

© J.-M. Dreuillaux

© J.-M. Dreuillaux

© J.-M. Dreuillaux


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The overall goal of this DIVERSITAS Cross-cutting Network on agriculture will be to develop a scientific framework for research on how to develop agriculture systems that:

  • preserve and enhance biodiversity
  • utilize biodiversity for key ecosystem services, and
  • minimally impact biodiversity of neighboring ecosystems.

Next Steps

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A first meeting for this cross-cutting network took place in May 2004 (Alexandria, Egypt). The primary aim was to define the scientific challenges in this area, including the need to:

  • understand the changes taking place in biodiversity at all levels in agricultural landscapes, and their effect on biodiversity in ‘natural’ habitats,
  • identify their implications for the production and consumption of foods, fuelwood, oils, fibres, medicinal fibres and other goods and services from agricultural landscapes,
  • evaluate the consequences of this for human well-being, especially nutrition, food security and health,
  • integrate across disciplines to understand how biodiversity in agricultural landscapes can better be conserved to provide for human needs under changing conditions,
  • understand the linkages between biodiversity changes in agriculture and maintenance of biodiversity in natural habitats.

The next step is to develop a science plan and implementation strategy for international efforts in agriculture and biodiversity. The Task Force recommended organising this document around the four following topics:

  • Understanding the causes and effects of the intensification and expansion of agricultural lands on genetic and population diversity in various agro-ecosystems and agricultural landscapes.
  • Investigating the link between biological communities and ecosystems, particularly the role of biodiversity in the sustainable provision of ecosystem goods and services in agricultural landscapes.
  • Understanding the impacts of environmental and socioeconomic change (at local, regional and global scales) on biodiversity in agricultural landscapes and the consequences of such change for human well-being.
  • Interactions among biodiversity, agricultural goods and services, and human well-being, at various ecological scales.

The draft science plan and implementation strategy for this network will be available on this web page in the coming months.


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Worldwide, many agricultural systems are in transition as farmers and social institutions respond to demands for increased agricultural sustainability while also coping with changes in land tenure, water availability, and markets. This transitional nature of agriculture will undoubtedly continue as climates change during the next century. Results from recent investigations demonstrate why research frameworks that deal simultaneously with biological and social aspects of these issues will be the most effective in conserving biodiversity in the future.

For example, in the USA, no-till systems show greater animal habitat and biodiversity than conventional systems, as well as decreased soil erosion and improved water quality in nearby streams. However, farmers using the no-till system tend to apply more herbicide or often use genetically modified (GMO) soybeans with herbicide resistance. Such practices raise other environmental and social concerns regarding the effects on biodiversity in neighboring ecosystems, as well as economic issues related to farmer vs. corporate financial gain (Carpenter & Giannessi, 2000; Wolfenbarger & Phifer, 2000; Fawcett & Towery, 2003).

In the Netherlands, integrated arable systems have been shown to preserve soil biota that promote natural pathways of nutrient cycling, suppress diseases, and form stable soil structures. However, economic gain of these systems is lower than that of conventional systems (De Ruiter et al., 1994; Brussaard et al., 1994).

Integration of Core Project Topics

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The agroBIODIVERSITY network will take an innovative approach to develop a collaborative research agenda for biodiversity conservation during agricultural transitions. By convening geneticists, ecologists, agronomists, political scientists and environmental economists, it will apply various approaches to developing research on conservation and enhancement of biodiversity within agro-ecosystems. Key research agenda items will include

  • workshops on topics such as soil biodiversity and ecosystem function,
  • projects designed to generate new knowledge in areas such as: a) farmer-community participatory research in traditional agro-ecosystems while introducing improved or alternate crop varieties; b) land-use patterns within the context of a landscape mosaic; c) using evaluation of biodiversity, ecological economics, and standard economic gains, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) analysis and economic models; and
  • outreach efforts to inform the international scientific community about existing integrative projects that can serve as models for new scientific enterprises.


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Biodiversity in Agricultural Landscapes: Saving Natural Capital without losing Interest
by Charles Perrings et al.
Editorial in Conservation Biology Volume 20, No. 2, 263–264, April 2006


agroBIODIVERSITY Science Plan (2005)

Ecological Studies 167: Alpine Biodiversity in Europe

The Science Plan and Implementation Strategy of the DIVERSITAS cross cutting theme agroBIODIVERSITY: A new science agenda for biodiversity in support of sustainable agroecosystems



Last updated: 17 July 2006

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