BASIL : Biodiversity in agricultural systems

Biodiversity has a huge potential to preserve and support ecosystem services. We addressed the relationship between biodiversity and agricultural production, and investigated how agricultural and environmental policy measures influence ecosystem services.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    The European agricultural landscape comprises a mosaic of intensively and non-intensively used areas. Industrial agricultural production plays a major role: one the one hand, it has helped to increase productivity and thereby the supply of foods. On the other hand, this focus on the “provisioning services” of agricultural ecosystems can have negative effects. Among them are, for instance, disrupted nutrient cycles and diminished soil protection. These can lead to serious ecological problems. Beyond that, global environmental changes like climate change and loss of biodiversity lead to further challenges for the agricultural landscape.

  • Aim

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    The interdisciplinary project, comprising eight European research institutions, aimed at analysing (i) how intensively and extensively managed agricultural soils differ with respect to the ecosystem services they generate, (ii) which impact biodiversity has on ecosystem services and thus on the sustainability of agricultural production, and (iii) which effect political and institutional measures have on biodiversity, ecosystem services and agricultural production.

  • Results

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    The symbiotic association between soil fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi) and plants increases at the edges of agricultural fields when ponds or hedgerows are bordering the field. However, crop yield is not higher towards the field edges, which might be also related to reduced management intensity there. Soil microbial coalescence has only transient effects on plant architecture and functioning.

    Soil conservation is generally positively perceived by farmers, but frequently conflicts with soil management practices and economic pressures. Participation of farmers is crucial in implementing strategies for a sustainable use of soils. Recommendation of conservation measures by farmers appears to be more effective than by scientists.

  • Relevance

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    Implication for research

    Our natural science results show that heterogeneous landscape elements have the potential to increase soil microbial diversity. This result, although without clear positive effect on crop yield, points to the importance of a diverse landscape to sustain the diversity of soil microbial communities and thus soil functions.

    The socio-economic findings about the negative effect of coordination requirements and the positive effect of a “farmer recommendation” on agri-environmental scheme participation illustrate the importance of both economic and social logics to explain farmers’ decision-making processes. Policies to promote the uptake of agro-environmental schemes should go beyond financial compensation and consider aspects of social compliance and coordination requirements in order to be successful.

    Implication for practice

    Our cross-country comparative case study reveals (i) the advantage of promoting landscape diversity; (ii) the need to take into account the different incentives and capacities that shape the advisory role of public and private “intermediaries”; and (iii) the importance of further integrating farm advisory initiatives with agro-environmental conservation programmes. Consultation processes and knowledge sharing mechanisms can reinforce both the positive effect of farmer recommendations as well as facilitate common understanding about the benefits of coordination. The results of our study can inform political decision making by demonstrating the importance of ecological, economic and social aspects when designing environmental schemes.

  • Original title

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    Landscape-scale Biodiversity and the Balancing of Provisioning, Regulating and Supporting Ecosystem Services (BASIL)