New pathways for sustainable agriculture

Small-scale agricultural landscapes (left) offer advantages: they promote biological diversity, pollination and natural pest control.
Credit: Matthias Tschumi

Hedges, flowering strips and other seminatural habitats provide food and nesting places for insects and birds in agricultural landscapes. This also has advantages for agriculture: bees, flies, beetles and other animal groups pollinate crops and control pest insects in adjacent fields.

But how much of these habitats is necessary and how should they be arranged to make use of these nature-based ecosystem services?

This question has been addressed by a new study from the Chair of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the Biocenter of Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany. The results are published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Small-scale land use is advantageous

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According to the study, biodiversity, pollination, and pest control can be improved in landscapes even with a relatively small amount of non-crop habitat. To reach this effect, these habitats must be arranged to create a small-scale agricultural landscape.

For this study, Dr. Emily A. Martin’s team took a closer look at data from ten European countries and 1,515 different agricultural landscapes. This clearly showed that small-scale land use is advantageous: it leads to a greater density of beneficial insects and spiders. And it increases the services provided by ecosystems for agriculture — pollination and natural pest control.

Creating a web of seminatural habitats

“In order to reduce pests and promote biodiversity, increasing the density of seminatural habitat elements can be an ideal solution for farms. You don’t have to remove much land from cultivation to reach a significant effect,” says Dr. Martin.

“The implementation of these findings would be an important step forward in the effort to achieve a sustainable and biodiversity-friendly agriculture,” Professor Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, head of the Chair of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology and co-author of the study, emphasises.

The JMU research team is now focusing on intensified cooperation with agricultural and environmental stakeholders. The scientists want to help implement a landscape management system that benefits everyone — nature and humankind.

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Materials provided by University of Würzburg. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Emily A. Martin, Matteo Dainese, Yann Clough, András Báldi, Riccardo Bommarco, Vesna Gagic, Michael P.D. Garratt, Andrea Holzschuh, David Kleijn, Anikó Kovács‐Hostyánszki, Lorenzo Marini, Simon G. Potts, Henrik G. Smith, Diab Al Hassan, Matthias Albrecht, Georg K.S. Andersson, Josep D. Asís, Stéphanie Aviron, Mario V. Balzan, Laura Baños‐Picón, Ignasi Bartomeus, Péter Batáry, Francoise Burel, Berta Caballero‐López, Elena D. Concepción, Valérie Coudrain, Juliana Dänhardt, Mario Diaz, Tim Diekötter, Carsten F. Dormann, Rémi Duflot, Martin H. Entling, Nina Farwig, Christina Fischer, Thomas Frank, Lucas A. Garibaldi, John Hermann, Felix Herzog, Diego Inclán, Katja Jacot, Frank Jauker, Philippe Jeanneret, Marina Kaiser, Jochen Krauss, Violette Le Féon, Jon Marshall, Anna‐Camilla Moonen, Gerardo Moreno, Verena Riedinger, Maj Rundlöf, Adrien Rusch, Jeroen Scheper, Gudrun Schneider, Christof Schüepp, Sonja Stutz, Louis Sutter, Giovanni Tamburini, Carsten Thies, José Tormos, Teja Tscharntke, Matthias Tschumi, Deniz Uzman, Christian Wagner, Muhammad Zubair‐Anjum, Ingolf Steffan‐Dewenter. The interplay of landscape composition and configuration: new pathways to manage functional biodiversity and agroecosystem services across Europe. Ecology Letters, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/ele.13265

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