Navigation Links
Is organic farming good for wildlife? It depends on the alternative

Even though organic methods may increase farm biodiversity, a combination of conventional farming and protected areas could sometimes be a better way to maintain food production and protect wildlife.

The findings come from a study of butterfly populations in UK landscapes by scientists at the Universities of Leeds and York. They found that organic farms have more butterflies than conventional farms, but that a conventional farm plus an area specifically managed for wildlife could support more butterflies, and produce the same amount of food, from the same area of land. However, the wildlife area would have to be similar in quality to a nature reserve, rather than similar to an uncultivated field margin.

The study is the first to seek to establish the trade-off between the most efficient use of farmland and the most effective way to conserve wildlife in our countryside and has important implications for how agricultural land in the UK should be managed

The research, which involved scientists from the Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, at the University of Leeds, and the Department of Biology at the University of York, is published in the online edition of Ecology Letters.

Author Prof. Bill Kunin of the University of Leeds says: "It's not enough to know how much biodiversity an agricultural field supports, we also need to know how much food it produces. If 'sharing' our farmland with wildlife means that more total land will be taken into production to produce our food, then there may be a hidden cost of hurting wildlife somewhere else."

The scientists measured the density and numbers of species of butterflies in organic farms, conventional farms and grassland nature reserves in 16 locations in the South of England, the Midlands and Yorkshire. They used butterflies as a wildlife example because of their sensitivity to small-scale habitat change, and focused on winter cereal and pasture fields because they are among the commonest crops.

The team project that a combination of conventional farming and nature reserves would be better for butterflies if the organic yield per hectare falls below 87 per cent of conventional yield. But if the uncultivated land is not specifically managed for wildlife - being more like unmanaged field margins - organic farming would be better whenever organic yields rise above 35 per cent of conventional yields. The relative yield of organic farming is often somewhere between 35 per cent and 87 per cent of conventional yield, depending on the type of crop and landscape. The trade-off might also be different for other types of wildlife: for example wildflowers benefit more from organic farming than butterflies, and many birds do not benefit at all. The results suggest that organic farming will be better when organic yields are high and when spared land has low value to wildlife. Conventional farming will be better when organic yields are low and spared land is of high wildlife value.

Lead author, Dr Jenny Hodgson, of the Department of Biology at York, said: "This research raises questions about how agri-environment schemes and incentives could be improved. There could be much more scope for restoring and maintaining permanent, high-quality wildlife habitat. This might involve neighbouring farmers clubbing together to achieve a larger area of restored habitat, or setting up a partnership with a conservation organisation."

Author Prof Tim Benton highlights the fact that "More effective agri-environment methods will strengthen the case for conventional farming. The real challenge is to develop better ways to manage AES areas on conventional farms, so they can come closer to nature reserve standards. The spared land could be in nature reserves, but if properly managed, the spared land could also be in strips at the margins of fields."

One premise of this study was that we aim to maintain food yield and wildlife in the UK countryside, and that these cannot be traded off with food or wildlife further afield. However, in reality the situation is much more complicated.

Author Prof Chris Thomas, of the University of York says: "It is hard to work out the best strategies to minimise the environmental impact of producing food in a global context. For example, if we adopt a low-intensity farming strategy in Europe, European citizens won't starve; we will simply import more food from other countries. This will potentially increase the area of land under cultivation, or the intensity of cultivation, in other countries, and hence accelerate biodiversity losses elsewhere in the world"


Contact: David Garner
University of York

Related biology news :

1. On organic coffee farm, complex interactions keep pests under control
2. Balanced ecosystems seen in organic ag better at controlling pests
3. Organic pesticides not always greener choice, study finds
4. Delineating primary and secondary organic carbon in neoproterozoic glacial sediments
5. New model is proposed to explain absence of organic compounds on surface of Mars
6. The Reaxys Ph.D. Prize awards innovative research in organic, organometallic and inorganic chemistry
7. Organic solids in soil may speed up bacterial breathing
8. Can organic labels backfire?
9. Cover crop mulches tested for no-till organic onions
10. Measuring the stability of organic waste
11. Ecology in organic ag: Combining farming, science
Post Your Comments:
(Date:10/29/2015)... Va. , Oct. 29, 2015 Daon, ... today that it has released a new version of ... customers in North America have ... IdentityX v4.0 also includes a FIDO UAF certified ... are already preparing to activate FIDO features. These customers ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... NXTD ) ("NXT-ID" or ... the growing mobile commerce market and creator of ... leading marketplace to discover and buy innovative technology ... on StackSocial for this holiday season.   ... a biometric authentication company focused on the growing ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... -- Munich, Germany , October ... automatically maps data from mobile eye tracking videos created ... that they can be quantitatively analyzed with SMI,s analysis ... , October 28-29, 2015. SMI,s Automated Semantic Gaze ... tracking videos created with SMI,s Eye Tracking Glasses ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... 24, 2015 , ... This fall, global software solutions leader SAP and AdVenture ... develop and pitch their BIG ideas to improve health and wellness in their schools. ... to win the title of SAP's Teen Innovator, an all-expenses paid trip to Super ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015  Tikcro Technologies Ltd. (OTCQB: TIKRF) today announced that its ... at 11:00 a.m. Israel time, at the law ... Allon Street, 36 th Floor, Tel Aviv, Israel ... and Izhak Tamir to the Board of Directors; ... directors; , approval of an amendment to certain terms of options ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... InSphero AG, the leading supplier of ... has promoted Melanie Aregger to serve as Chief Operating Officer. , Having ... management team and was promoted to Head of InSphero Diagnostics in 2014. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015 HemoShear ... on discovering drugs for metabolic disorders, announced today ... to its Board of Directors (BOD). Mr. Watkins ... of Human Genome Sciences (HGS), and also served ... Jim Powers , Chairman and CEO ...
Breaking Biology Technology: