Managing for ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes
Agriculture relies on supporting and regulating ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, nutrient provision, soil formation, pollination and pest control, to produce food, forage, fuels and fiber (i.e. provisioning services). Agriculture can also contribute to regulating and cultural ecosystem services, by providing clean water, wildlife habitat and beautiful agricultural landscapes, for example. However, the balance between the production of provisioning services versus regulating and cultural services depends on how the agricultural system is managed. Globally, agriculture today, while it produces enormous quantities of foods, forage, fuels and fibers, also plays a leading role in biodiversity loss, unsustainable water use, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient and toxics pollution, and soil erosion and degradation. These agricultural impacts effect not only other sub-systems and biomes like the climate, oceans and tropical rain forests, but also threaten to undermine the ability of agricultural habitats to continue to produce provisioning services. Thus, implementing regenerative forms of agricultural management, which restore and maintain the ecosystem services that form the basis of sustainable production, have become a global imperative.
This talk will present the concept of “biologically diversified farming systems” and review evidence that biologically diversified farming systems can simultaneously provide provisioning services along with regulating and cultural services. Biologically diversified farming systems utilize a suite of agricultural practices that maintain biological diversity in the soils, crops, companion plantings and surrounding landscapes, in order to produce and regenerate key ecosystem inputs to farming such as fertile soils, and functional native pollinator and natural enemy communities. Results of a synthesis will be presented showing that compared to conventional monoculture farming systems, biologically diversified farming systems support substantially greater biodiversity, pollination, soil quality, carbon sequestration, water-holding capacity, energy-use efficiency, and resistance and resilience to climate change. While methods used in diversified farming systems also enhance control of weeds, diseases, and arthropod pests, in many cases, these methods and systems still need to be optimized and tailored for specific crops and geographies to produce economically viable solutions to pest and disease problems. In some cases, extensive research has led to highly successful biologically diversified farming systems that regulate pests and diseases effectively, and several examples will be presented. The talk will conclude by examining the research, policy and education needed to promote biologically diversified farming systems more widely.