Designing Agriculture That Contributes to Biodiverse Landscapes

Farms provide habitat for wildlife by increasing plant diversity and by mimicking the native ecosystems around them. Crop mixtures, hedgerows, wood lots, and strips of native vegetation attract wildlife by increasing the structural and species diversity of farms. Some types of low-input agriculture can serve as habitat for many native species (Figure 4, curves I and II). For example, traditional coffee farms have tall canopy trees mixed with the crops, while modern farms are chemical-intensive monocultures. The traditional farms maintain very high diversity of birds, bats, terrestrial mammals, and insects, and they serve as refuges for species found only in forest. In contrast, modern coffee farms have very low biodiversity.

At the landscape level, agriculture can best preserve biodiversity when it becomes part of a matrix connecting natural areas. Only about 10 percent of the earth's land area is protected for conservation. The choice of land uses for the other 90 percent will therefore be critical. Biodiversity cannot be preserved effectively if natural areas are isolated islands amid a sea of uniform, chemically drenched industrial agriculture. Rather, agricultural areas must serve as corridors for species to move among natural areas, and as refuges in times of stress.

Consumers concerned about biodiversity can influence agricultural practices when they purchase food. Several organizations certify and label food products that provide financial incentives to farmers who are reducing their environmental impact and preserving diversity.

—Christopher M. Picone and David Van Tassel

See also: Agriculture and Biodiversity Loss: Genetic Engineering and the Second Agricultural Revolution; Agriculture: Benefits of Biodiversity to


Colborn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. 1996. Our Stolen Future. New York: Dut-ton/Penguin; Collins, Wanda W., and Calvin O. Qualset, eds. 1999. Biodiversity in Agroecosystems. New York: CRC; Carroll, C. Ronald, John H. Van-dermeer, and Peter M. Rosset, eds. 1990. Agroecology. New York: McGraw-Hill; Lappe, Francis Moore, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset. 1998. World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 2d ed. New York: Grove; Matson, Pamela A., William J. Parton, Alison G. Power, and Michael J. Swift. 1997. "Agricultural Intensification and Ecosystem Properties." Science 277: 504-509; Pimentel, David, et al. 1992. "Environmental and Economic Costs of Pesticide Use." Bioscience 42: 750-760; Soule, Judith D., and Jon K. Piper. 1992. Farming in Nature's Image: An Ecological Approach to Agriculture. Washington, DC: Island; Tilman, David, et al. 2001. "Forecasting Agriculturally Driven Global Environmental Change." Science 292: 281-284; Van-

Figure 4

The Effects of Agricultural Intensity on Biodiversity

Figure 4

Native Low-input Industrial

Ecosystem Agriculture Agriculture

Native Low-input Industrial

Ecosystem Agriculture Agriculture

Source: Modified from Vandermeer, John, and Ivette Perfecto. 1995. Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Truth about Rain Forest Destruction. Oakland, CA: Food First.

Note: How agriculture affects associated biodiversity depends on the type (intensity) of agriculture. When low-input systems mimic the native system, as shaded coffee farms do, farms can retain most biodiversity (Curves I and II). In contrast, when low-input agriculture includes more severe disturbance, such as soil tillage or extensive deforestation, it is likely to reduce biodiversity more rapidly (curves III and IV). In all cases diversity is lowest when the agricultural system is most industrialized.

dermeer, John, and Ivette Perfecto. 1995. Breakfast of

Biodiversity: The Truth about Rain Forest Destruction.

Oakland, CA: Food First.

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