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agroBIODIVERSITY A new science agenda for biodiversity in support of sustainable agroecosystems

agroBIODIVERSITY A new science agenda for biodiversity in support of sustainable agroecosystems

While species extinction is a matter of increasing concern, changes in biodiversity in the world’s agricultural landscapes have largely escaped attention. Yet, agriculture is fundamentally linked to biodiversity. “Biological diversity” or biodiversity(1) has formed the basis for human food production systems for millennia, and plays an important role in the provisioning services, i.e., production of foods, fuels, and fibers, that agriculture supplies. Biodiversity in agriculture also provides cultural services that form key elements of the agricultural knowledge base, and define spiritual, religious, and aesthetic values for human societies. In a wider context, bio- diversity serves important functions that enhance the environ- mental resource base upon which agriculture depends, e.g., regulating and supporting services such as water purification, nutrient cycling, and soil formation.
Population growth, changes in food demand, conversion to modern, high-input agriculture, land use changes, and the globalization of agricultural markets have caused rapid loss of agricultural biodiversity, and of biodiversity in wildland ecosystems. Despite the importance of biodiversity for agriculture, ecologists and conservation biologists have tended to place greatest empha- sis on the negative agricultural impacts on wild biodiversity that have resulted from modern agricultural intensification and expan- sion. In fact, a dichotomy has arisen between agriculturalists and conservation biologists, due to the growing demand for food, creating a significant impact of agriculture on wild land ecosys- tems, as has been demonstrated in the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment(2). Resolving this dichotomy is imperative, in order to conserve biodiversity for its highest potential benefit to agriculture and for the Earth’s life-support system.
Agricultural landscapes are part of our natural capital, and the flow of services that they provide is the ‘interest’ on that capital. Just as investors choose a portfolio of produced capital to main- tain the return on that capital over a range of market risks, so society needs to choose the mix of genes, species, communities, and ecosystems to maintain the flow of ecosystem services over a range of environmental and social risks. This requires unders- tanding the risk implications of changes in that mix that will help to design adequate strategies for agricultural management and conservation biology in order to maintain an ecologically accepta- ble level of biological diversity on this planet.

To inform decision makers, new scientific approaches are needed to address the trade offs between food production, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and human well being in agri- cultural landscapes.

This international programme of biodiversity science, DIVERSI- TAS, has identified a science agenda for biodiversity use in agri- cultural landscapes, to inspire and facilitate a new generation of research on this topic. This science agenda recognises that a fun- damentally new approach to the science and management of agricultural landscapes is needed and that agricultural landscapes need to be considered as systems providing a range of services in addition to food, fuel and fibres.

This document, the science plan and implementation strategy of a new DIVERSITAS cross cutting theme called “agroBIODIVERSITY” is the result of a number of meetings and discussions over the past year, involving scientists of diverse backgrounds, disciplines and countries. We are grateful to the US National Academy of Sciences for providing a seed grant that has enabled this work to be initiated. This document is by no means an end in itself, but is meant to evolve as new knowledge is generated. We hope that it will contribute, in the context of the post Millennium Assessment era, to a new generation of scientific work, and a new way to consider biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.