January 22, 2013

Revisiting Cropland for Biodiversity Conservation

Amazon, forest edge, field margins, deforestation, crops, agricultural expansionWhile last week the Landscapes Blog paid particular attention to the part a productive landscape plays in maintaining ecosystem services, this week actually marks the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in Bonn, Germany. Established in April of last year, the IPBES serves a purpose similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in that it is charged with assessing the state of the planet’s biodiversity, ecosystems, and their services to society. In pursuit of this objective, the platform brings together leaders from both the scientific and policy communities to synthesize, review, and evaluate the wealth of relevant available knowledge, and also make this science accessible for a decision-making audience. This first meeting will primarily deal with the nuts and bolts of organization, procedures, and work program; nevertheless the IPBES offers the opportunity to tackle questions related to biodiversity and ecosystem services preservation within mosaic agricultural landscapes at the global level.

Crop map, agricultural expansion, conservation, land sparing, cultivation potential There are a number of schools of thought for conserving biodiversity in agricultural lands, including the idea of ‘land sparing’ discussed on the blog previously. A new report from scientists at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Cambridge Conservation Initiative takes a more nuanced approach, overlaying areas of crop expansion and biodiversity conservation priority. The paper, by Phalan et al and published in PLoS ONE, examined data from 128 tropical countries, noting regions that exhibit considerable potential for agriculture and house high levels of biodiversity. It highlights the need for more effective sustainability standards, policies, and incentives to shape the production and consumption of tropical commodity crops. It also argues for land-use planning processes that can better manage these new agricultural frontiers, and the need to understand the context of cropland within a mosaic of natural and semi-natural habitats. The results of this study underscore the complexities in balancing food and fiber production and biodiversity conservation, and indicate the need for an effort like IPBES to help reconcile these competing priorities by bringing together the best information available.

Want to learn more? Read the full journal article online. Have thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Image credits: Phalan et al 2013/FAOSTAT

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