Diversified farming practices enhance multiple ecosystems services simultaneously without a trade-off in yield
Supporting biodiversity is not only a tenet of organic farming, but the ecosystem services that biodiversity can provide to farmers is also relied upon for managing pests, soil health and water quality instead of inputs like pesticides and fertilizers. A recent study published in Science Advances found that many farm diversification practices used to boost biodiversity above- and below-ground do indeed increase ecosystem services simultaneously, while also increasing crop yields. The study showed that when farm diversification practices are used, biodiversity improves as well as “pollination, pest-control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation.” The researchers also discovered that practices intentionally used to enhance biodiversity in the soil resulted in a boost in nutrient cycling and soil fertility as well as the ability to hold water in the soil so the plants can use it more efficiently. The practices intentionally used to enhance above-ground biodiversity also improved water regulation in the soil as well as natural pest control. This comprehensive study is unique in that it consisted of two levels of meta-analyses, where the researchers reviewed 98 previously published meta-analyses (studies that quantify data combined from many previously published studies) and also performed their own meta-analysis by combining data from 5,160 studies resulting in 41,946 comparisons between the use of diversified farming practices versus more simplified farming practices. While this study was able to detect large-scale trends, it also found a lot of variation between practices used and their outcome on yield. This suggests that the benefits of diversified farming practices are context-dependent and may vary from farm to farm. Overall, the authors suggest that if more diversified farming practices are used globally, biodiversity conservation can be more broadly achieved and the success of farming in the future will be more secure.
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