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'Food production vs biodiversity; comparing organic & conventional agriculture' Benton et al

'Food production vs biodiversity; comparing organic & conventional agriculture' Benton et al

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A report by scientists in the Journal of Applied Ecology showing close relationship between crop yields & wildlife - the key is yield, not the farming practice.
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Uploaded via @blackgull
A report by scientists in the Journal of Applied Ecology showing close relationship between crop yields & wildlife - the key is yield, not the farming practice.
Read it all!
Uploaded via @blackgull

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Published by: rob yorke on Feb 18, 2013
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04/16/2013

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Food production vs. biodiversity: comparing organicand conventional agriculture
Doreen Gabriel
1,2,3
*, Steven M. Sait
1
, William E. Kunin
1
and Tim G. Benton
1
1
School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK;
2
Institute for Crop and Soil Science, Julius
uhn-Institute
– 
Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Bundesallee 50, D-38116, Braunschweig, Germany;and 
3
Institute of Biodiversity, Th
unen Institute
– 
Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Fisheries and Forestry,Bundesallee 50, D-38116, Braunschweig, Germany 
Summary
1.
A substantial proportion of the global land surface is used for agricultural production.Agricultural land serves multiple societal purposes; it provides food, fuel and fibre and alsoacts as habitat for organisms and supports the services they provide. Biodiversity conserva-tion and food production need to be balanced: production needs to be sustainable, whileconservation cannot be totally at the expense of crop yield.
2.
To identify the benefits (in terms of biodiversity conservation) and costs (in terms of reduction in yields) of agricultural management, we examined the relationship between cropyield and abundance and species density of important taxa in winter cereal fields on bothorganic and conventional farms in lowland England.
3.
Of eight species groups examined, five (farmland plants, bumblebees, butterflies, solitarybees and epigeal arthropods) were negatively associated with crop yield, but the shape of thisrelationship varied between taxa. It was linear for the abundance of bumblebees and speciesdensity of butterflies, concave up for the abundance of epigeal arthropods and butterflies andconcave down for species density of plants and bumblebees.
4.
Grain production per unit area was 54% lower in organic compared with conventionalfields. When controlling for yield, diversity of bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies and epigealarthropods did not differ between farming systems, indicating that observed differences inbiodiversity between organic and conventional fields are explained by lower yields in organicfields and not by different management practices
per se
. Only percentage cover and speciesdensity of plants were increased by organic field management after controlling for yield. Theabundance of solitary wild bees and hoverflies was increased in landscapes with high amountof organic land.
5.
Synthesis and applications.
Our results indicate that considerable gains in biodiversityrequire roughly proportionate reductions in yield in highly productive agricultural systems.They suggest that conservation efforts may be more cost effective in low-productivity agricul-tural systems or on non-agricultural land. In less productive agricultural landscapes, biodiver-sity benefit can be gained by concentrating organic farms into hotspots without acommensurate reduction in yield.
Key-words:
agri-environment schemes, agro-ecology, conservation, diversity, land sharing,land sparing, landscape, organic farming, wheat, yield
Introduction
The global demand for food and farmland is rapidlygrowing due to a variety of factors including risinghuman population numbers, increased meat consumption,urbanization, competing land uses for non-food crops andthe alteration in the suitability of land to grow crops dueto climate change (Tilman
et al.
2009; Beddington 2010).While a reduction in food waste, improvements in infra-structure and transport, a change in human diets andexpanding aquaculture are important mitigation strategiesagainst increased demand (Godfray
et al.
2010), it has
*Correspondence author. E-mail: Doreen.Gabriel@jki.bund.de
©
2013 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology
©
2013 British Ecological Society
Journal of Applied Ecology
2013 doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12035
 
been argued that agricultural production has to increaseglobally to supply the food required for the estimatedover nine billion people by 2050 (Foresight 2011; Tilman
et al.
2011). Increasing supply logically has two axes:either via intensification (increasing output over the samearea) or via extensification (bringing more land into agri-cultural production). With agricultural intensification andland-use change being the major drivers for biodiversityloss, this will undoubtedly have a heavy impact on wild-life and the environment (Tilman
et al.
2001).Currently, two contrasting landscape-level scenarios arewidely discussed with regard to preserving biodiversitywhile maintaining food production: wildlife-friendly farm-ing (‘land sharing’) vs. land sparing (Green
et al.
2005;Fischer
et al.
2008). In a land-sparing scenario, the avail-able land in a landscape is subdivided into some areasspecialized for producing mainly agricultural produce,and others are devoted mainly to maintaining biodiversityand ecosystem services. This allows the agricultural landto be farmed intensively for high yields, while the sparedland can be managed specifically for other services. Thereis no necessity for the ‘spared land’ to be spatially sepa-rated from the agricultural land; indeed, there are argu-ments that support it being a landscape-wide network of wildlife areas formed by field margins, small farm wood-lands, water courses, etc. (Benton 2012). In the wildlife-friendly, land-sharing scenario the available land is underlower-intensity agriculture. The increased area of land inproduction compensates for its lower yield, and thedecrease in intensity allows biodiversity to be conservedacross the whole landscape. The optimal scenario dependson the shape of the yield vs. population density (or biodi-versity) function (Green
et al.
2005). If, from a high-yieldbaseline, a small reduction in yield causes a markedincrease in biodiversity (a concave-down shape), then landsharing, or wildlife-friendly farming, is the better option.If, however, significant biodiversity gains require a verylarge reduction in yields (a concave-up shape), then landsparing is the better strategy. These contrasting scenariosshould be considered as the endpoints of a continuum; itis not a question of ‘either/or’, but of how much of eachstrategy shall be applied and under what circumstances(Fischer
et al.
2008). The solution is likely to depend onthe peculiarities of populations, species groups or ecosys-tem services and the landscapes, regions or countries infocus (Hodgson
et al.
2010).In this study, we are interested in quantifying the trade-off between agricultural production and biodiversity. Werecognize that impacts of farming are broader than biodi-versity (e.g. environmental pollution and reduction in soilquality), and in theory, the sparing vs. sharing analysiscould have a broader ‘impacts vs. yield’ trade-off. How-ever, many reductions in ecosystem services are, by defini-tion, mediated through species abundance and diversity,so examining this relationship in this instance is valuable.In the European context, different models have been usedto describe the relationship between yield and biodiver-sity. Kleijn & Sutherland (2003) predicted that biodiver-sity will decline in a concave-up curve with agriculturalintensity, a prediction recently supported by a study of farmland plants (Kleijn
et al.
2009). This shape suggeststhat significant biodiversity is supported only when agri-cultural production is very low. A negative linear relation-ship between wheat yield and farmland bird species hasbeen observed by Donald
et al.
(2006) and Geiger
et al.
(2010), which suggests that a reduction in agriculturalintensity is equally effective at any yield. Hoogeveen,Petersen & Gabrielsen (2001) suggested a unimodal rela-tionship, where biodiversity first increases and thendeclines as intensity increases. Under this scenario, thedisturbance created by low-intensity farming leads toincreased biodiversity relative to unmanaged land, butbeyond an intermediate level of intensity biodiversity willdecline.Here, we focus on two farming systems, conventionalintensive agriculture and organic farming
– 
a specificexample of wildlife-friendly agriculture. Organic farmingis widely regarded as a more sustainable farming systemthan conventional agriculture because it produces foodwhile conserving soil, water, energy and biodiversity(Pimentel
et al.
2005), although ‘sustainability’ is a con-cept defined in many ways and with multiple currencies(e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, synthetic inputs, land useand biodiversity). Organic yields are globally on average25% lower than conventional yields according to a recentmeta-analysis (Seufert, Ramankutty & Foley 2012),although this varies with crop types and species anddepends on the comparability of farming systems. Hence,it is questionable whether the environmental performanceof organic farming is still better if related to the unit out-put per area.We examine the impact of farming on biodiversity andask two questions. First, in comparison with conventionalfarming, is organic farming beneficial for all biodiversityor differentially beneficial for different taxa and/or acrossdifferent landscapes (Bengtsson, Ahnstrom & Weibull2005; Hole
et al.
2005)? Both the management of thefarmland in the landscape, such as areas dominated byorganic land, and the proportion of farming in the land-scape, such as areas dominated by arable crops, canenhance or detract from the benefits of organic farmingfor different species groups (Holzschuh
et al.
2007;Rundlof, Bengtsson & Smith 2008; Diek
otter
et al.
2010;Gabriel
et al.
2010). Second, as crop yields are typicallylower in organic compared with conventional farming sys-tems (de Ponti, Rijk & van Ittersum 2012; Seufert, Rama-nkutty & Foley 2012), is the increase in biodiversity onorganic farms sufficient to offset the necessary increase intotal agricultural land that will be needed to increase therequired crop yield? To our knowledge, few studies havecontrasted crop yields of organic farming with biodiver-sity [see Ostman, Ekbom & Bengtsson (2003) for pest
 – 
natural enemy dynamics and Clough, Kruess &Tscharntke (2007) for staphylinids]. Thus, knowledge is
©
2013 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology
©
2013 British Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied Ecology
2
D. Gabriel 
et al.
 
very limited for the costs, in terms of yield loss, that areassociated with biodiversity gains through organic farm-ing in a wildlife-friendly farming scenario.The aim of this study was to assess the trade-ofbetween yield and biodiversity in both organic and con-ventional farms in lowland England. To reduce variationdue to crop species, we focus in particular on winter cer-eal as Europe’s most widespread arable crop. Biodiversitywas assessed on a total of 165 fields of 29 farms in tworegions over 2 years and measured as abundance and spe-cies density of plants, earthworms, insect pollinators (hov-erflies, bumblebees and solitary wild bees), butterflies,epigeal arthropods (abundance only) and birds. Ourexpectation was that the shape of the negative relationshipbetween biodiversity and yield might differ between taxaand farming systems. One might expect that taxa withlimited mobility that use crop fields as their main habitatshould respond more strongly than mobile multi-habitatusers to crop yield. Furthermore, this response should fol-low a concave-down curve in organic fields if organicfarming should be regarded as a wildlife-friendly farmingsystem.
Materials and methods
STUDY DESIGN, CROP YIELD ESTIMATION ANDBIODIVERSITY SURVEYS
The study design and the selection of fields, farms and landscapesare described in full detail in Gabriel
et al.
(2010). We selectedsixteen 10
9
10 km landscapes, each containing paired organicand conventional farms. The 16 landscapes were arranged ineight clusters of paired landscapes. Four clusters were located inthe Central South West and four in the North Midlands of Eng-land. Landscapes within a pair were chosen to have similar envi-ronmental conditions, but contrasting proportions of organicagriculture [hereafter called organic ‘hotspots’ for high (on aver-age 17
Á
2%) and ‘coldspots’ for low (on average 1
Á
4%) propor-tions of organic land] (Gabriel
et al.
2009). On each farm, threecereal fields were selected in 2007 and 2008. However, becausecrop yields and biodiversity may differ between spring andautumn-sown cereals, we chose only the winter cereal fields withwheat, oat and barley for this study, giving us 29 farms and 165fields for comparison (16 farms with three fields each over2 years
=
96 conventional fields; and 13 farms with one to threefields each over 2 years
=
69 organic fields).Crop yield was estimated by taking the above-ground biomassof the crops from three 50
9
50 cm plots (25 m apart) from thefield centres shortly before harvest. Samples were placed for 16 hin a drying oven at 70
°
C, the wheat ears were threshed, and thegrain was weighed. Hence, yield is measured as the grain’s dryweight and is not equivalent to yields that farmer or agriculturalstatistics report because those differ in moisture content andinclude losses during harvest, transport and edge effects.Farmland biodiversity was repeatedly surveyed during May
 – 
August in each year. Herbaceous vascular plant species (exceptgrasses and ferns) were identified within quadrats, earthwormswere sampled using the hot mustard method, epigeal arthropodswere sampled with a Vortis suction sampler, flower visitors wereassessed using pan traps, and butterflies and birds were recordedby walking standardized transects (for more details on biodiver-sity surveys see Appendix S1, Supporting information). All taxawere surveyed at the field level in the crop field centres (25 m intothe cultivated area), except birds, which were recorded at thefarm level (as standard transects covered multiple fields). Plants,earthworms and epigeal arthropods were also recorded in thefield edges (0
Á
5 m into the cultivated area), while butterflies andinsect pollinators were recorded in the field margins (the unculti-vated area). Field edges and margins are too close together forindependent sampling of mobile taxa such as pollinating insects.Hence, in the analyses reported here, the crop edge or field mar-gin assays are contrasted with field centre surveys to test theeffects of within-field location.
STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Farmland biodiversity was analysed in terms of abundance (per-centage cover or number of individuals per area and/or time) andspecies density (number of species per area and/or time) of plants, earthworms, insect pollinators, butterflies, epigeal arthro-pods and birds. Generalized and general additive mixed effectmodels (GAMM) were fitted to test for linear and nonlinear rela-tionships between components of farmland biodiversity and cropyield. Additive models fit a smoothing curve through the dataand allow the data to define the appropriate shape of the curve,avoiding the need to specify a particular (parametric) curve.The smoothness of the curve is defined by its degrees of freedom(d.f.).The statistical analysis was conducted in two steps. First, foreach response variable we chose a modelling family based on itsfrequency distributions and model fit by specifying the errorstructure (normal, poisson and quasipoisson) with the respectivelink function (identity and log). We fitted biodiversity as a func-tion of crop yield and accounted for the variability due to ourhierarchical study design by including the random effects year(2007, 2008), survey in year (1
 – 
3), cluster (1
 – 
8), farm (1
 – 
29),field-within-farm (1
 – 
3) and location-within-field (1
 – 
2), whenappropriate. To assess whether the relationship between measuresof biodiversity and crop yield differed between the within-fieldlocation (centre vs. edge or margin), farm management (organicvs. conventional), landscape-scale management (hotspot vs. cold-spot) and regions (Central South West vs. North Midlands), weallowed different smoother terms for the different factor levels(in essence, fitting an interaction term). We then compared mod-els and dropping terms using AIC (QAIC for models with quasi-poisson error) and also checked whether replacing the droppedinteraction term with its equivalent main effect would improvethe model fit. In the next step, we ran the best subset of modelswith d.f. of 2, 3 and 4 and compared their fit. All statistical anal-ysis were conducted in R (R Development Core Team 2012).
Results
SUMMARY OF CROP YIELD AND BIODIVERSITY
Winter cereal yield in organic fields was 54% lower thanin conventional fields (Table 1, Fig. 1a; see SupportingAnalysis S2 (Supporting information) for a description of the farming practice and environment). In organic fields,
©
2013 The Authors. Journal of Applied Ecology
©
2013 British Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied Ecology
Food production and biodiversity impacts
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