Changing the intensity of land-use over time can increase biodiversity in grasslands

Eric Allan, Institute of Plant Sciences

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Globally, the intensification of agricultural land use is a leading threat to biodiversity. Previous studies on the impacts of land use intensity on biodiversity have looked at single/small groups of organisms and not considered changes in land use over time. Fifty eight scientists monitored 150 grassland sites in three regions of Germany across three years. The sites varied from extensively managed and lightly grazed to intensively grazed/mown with high fertilizer input. At some sites, the farmer had changed the land use intensity over the years and in others it remained the same. A new index of ecosystem “multidiversity” was compiled using the data of 48 groups of bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals. Overall biodiversity declined strongly with increasing land use intensity, particularly for rare species.

However, biodiversity was higher where land use intensity changed over time. This was especially true for rare species: at intermediate land use intensity, their diversity was twice as high when land use intensity varied between years. This suggests that farmers could conserve biodiversity by changing their land use intensity between years, e.g. by altering livestock numbers.

Changing intensity over time could promote sustainable agriculture because grasslands rich in plant species may be better at resisting climate change or attack by pests/pathogens. Important services, e.g. carbon storage or pollinator provisioning for crops may also depend on a high diversity of plants and insects.

Article “Interannual variation in land-use intensity enhances grassland multidiversity”:


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