Effects of Organic Farming on Biodiversity

Abstract

Changes in farming practices over the past century have had negative influence on farmland biodiversity. Organic farming excludes most agrochemicals, such as inorganic fertilisers and synthetic pesticides, and can be an alternative to conventional farming. A recent meta‚Äźanalysis indicates that there is on average 30% higher species richness on organically managed farmland compared to conventionally managed farmland. There are, however, large variation between organism groups, with a positive influence on plants and pollinators and possibly predators and birds, but less influence on and insufficient knowledge for other groups. Using more formal experimental design, focusing on understudied organism groups and aspects of biodiversity, such as genetic and ecosystem diversity, and evaluating effects on rare species would advance our knowledge. The yield reduction under organic farming, resulting in more land needed to produce the same amount, could offset some of the biodiversity benefits of organic farming.

Key Concepts

  • Agricultural landscapes are both used to produce food and other agricultural products and as habitat for farmland biodiversity.
  • Agricultural intensification, with increased use of agrochemical, mechanisation, crop breeding and conversion of land, is a threat to biodiversity.
  • Organic farming is aimed at ecosystem management and reduction of agrochemical use.
  • Organic farming results in around 30% higher biodiversity compared to conventional farming.
  • The effects of organic farming vary between organism groups owing to their ecological traits.
  • The effect of organic farming on biodiversity can be modified by landscape heterogeneity, land use intensity and time since conversion to organic farming.
  • There are remaining gaps in the knowledge about how to combine agricultural production and biodiversity conservation.

Keywords: agricultural management; birds; diversity; farming system; herbivores; microbes; plants; pollinators; predators; species richness

Figure 1. Experimental designs useful for evaluating effects of organic farming on biodiversity. (a) A paired design, where organic farms are paired with conventional farms, for example by taking the landscape context and geographical location into consideration, is useful in space‐for‐time substitution studies. (b) The BACI (before‐after‐control‐impact) design can also be used, where half of the selected farms (or fields) are converted to (or from) organic farming. Biodiversity is assessed on the farms (or fields) both before and after the conversion. Farms (or fields) should preferably be randomly assigned to the treatment and control groups. In both the cases, it is important to include sufficient replication to be able to detect any difference in the measured parameter(s) between the farming systems.
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Rundlöf, Maj, Smith, Henrik G, and Birkhofer, Klaus(Dec 2016) Effects of Organic Farming on Biodiversity. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0026342]