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New Theory for Boosting Agriculture Sustainability

Diversity rules out monotony: a colorful patchwork of small, variedly used plots can offer benefits to agriculture and nature. This is the result of a new research by the University of Würzburg.

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

Flowering strips, hedges, and other semi-natural habitats provide nesting places and food for birds and insects in agricultural landscapes. This also has benefits for agriculture: bees, beetles, flies, and other animal groups pollinate crops and control pest insects in neighboring fields.

But how much of these habitations are essential and how should they be arranged to ensure use of these nature-based ecosystem services?

This question has been answered through a new research from the Chair of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the Biocenter of Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany. Details of the study can be found in in the journal “Ecology Letters”.

Small-scale land use is advantageous

According to the research, pollination, biodiversity, and pest control can be enhanced in landscapes even with a comparatively small amount of non-crop habitat. To realize this effect, these habitats must be arranged to form a small-scale agricultural landscape.

For this research, Dr. Emily A. Martin's team looked closely at data from ten European countries and 1,515 different agricultural landscapes. This undoubtedly revealed that small-scale land use is beneficial: it results in a greater density of advantageous insects and spiders. Furthermore, it promotes the services offered by ecosystems for agriculture–natural pest control and pollination.

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, stresses.

The JMU research team is, at present, concentrating on increased cooperation with agricultural and environmental stakeholders. The researchers want to help execute a landscape management system that is advantageous to all–nature and mankind.

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