Urgent needs to both increase crop production and conserve biological diversity raise the question of optimal land allocation – should agricultural production be intensified while sparing other land for nature, or should agriculture be integrated with biodiversity, possibly at a cost of reduce yield per acre? The provisioning of ecosystem services by wildlife in agriculture complicates this question. For example, birds benefit agriculture by preying on pest insects, but other habitat is needed to maintain the birds. Addressing these issues requires unravelling the mechanistic processes that govern bird distribution and foraging, which is difficult using field studies alone.
We used individual-based mechanistic models to examine the effects of land allocation and farm habitat management on songbird foraging in Jamaican coffee farms, where they suppress the economically damaging coffee berry borer. Simulations enabled us to experiment with the effect of local and landscape-level habitat distribution on the delivery of an ecosystem service, which is nearly impossible in the field. Our simulations helped identify the importance of farm habitat management, and showed that even modest protection of canopy cover on farms can conserve the provisioning of pest control services by birds. Our model system could be modified to examine how farmers can optimize the delivery of ecosystem services by other mobile agents in other landscapes.