Knowledge for better food systems

Do we have to make trade-offs between biodiversity and ecosystem services?

This briefing paper was published in August 2009 by Knowledge Scotland. Until recently, the impacts of agricultural change have been seen as a trade-off between productivity and biodiversity.
This briefing paper was published in August 2009 by Knowledge Scotland. Until recently, the impacts of agricultural change have been seen as a trade-off between productivity and biodiversity. However, there has been a general assumption that preserving biodiversity results in land also delivering a whole range of other ecosystem goods and services. These are defined as benefits that people and society gain from the wider environmental services that ecosystems can provide. An example study system, a traditional crofting area on the west coast of Scotland where a wide range of land uses were available within a small area, was used to study the potential trade-offs between biodiversity and carbon sequestration. A traditional hay meadow was compared with: silage production; pasture, winter grazing and abandonment. Three indicators of carbon dynamics were assessed; above-ground net primary production, litter decomposition rate and litter quality. Biodiversity was measured in terms of species richness of plants, beetles, and bees. The study found that changing from traditional hay cropping to silage, pasture or abandonment led to a decline in biodiversity but an increase in carbon sequestration. Using land for winter grazing led to similar outcomes for carbon and for beetle and bee diversity, but a decline in plant diversity. The study concludes: "As more focus is put on managing for other ecosystem services, such as for soil carbon sequestration, then the analysis of these trade-offs becomes more complex. This is because multiple goals have to be taken into account, as have the wishes of multiple stakeholders. Developing the tools and infrastructure to do this is necessary to ensure the efficient use of land for the provision of multiple services and the conservation of public goods such as biodiversity."
 

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