LInking farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem
seRvices for effective ecological intensification (LIBERATION)
Coordinator: Alterra (NL), David Kleijn
next few decades will witness a rapidly increasing demand for agricultural products.
By 2050 current food demand will be doubled by world population and
socio-economic growth. The expanding bio-based economy will increase the demand
for agricultural products. Urban development will increasingly compete with
agriculture for land use. The growing demand for agricultural products needs to
be met largely through intensification (produce more from the same land
surface) because there is little scope for an increase in agricultural area
without doing irreparable damage to vital natural ecosystems. The steady
increases in agricultural productivity per unit area seen through the latter
part of the 20th century have now plateaued with little opportunity
for further increases in efficiency through conventional methods. The
dependency of conventional agriculture and food supply on non-renewable
resources (e.g. fossil fuels, phosphate) makes it unsustainable in the long run.
Ecological intensification has been proposed as a promising solution. Ecological intensification is the
optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services
in the agricultural production process. As such it advocates to maintain or
enhance agricultural production through the promotion of biodiversity and associated
Ecosystem services in a conventional
In many parts of Europe, agricultural productivity is amongst the highest
in the World but depends on unsustainable high levels of external inputs. Here
the challenge for ecological intensification would be to reduce reliance on
external inputs while maintaining high productivity levels by reestablishment
of soil and landscape ecosystem services (Ecological replacement – see Fig. 1).
In other parts of Europe, where productivity is less high, the challenge will
be to enhance productivity by optimising ecosystem services rather than by
increasing agricultural inputs. This is comparable to the situation in the
majority of countries outside Europe (Ecological enhancement – Fig. 1).
Intensive production systems are highly sensitive to environmental disturbances
and disruption of ecosystem services. A further challenge for ecological
intensification is the development of novel poly-cropping systems and
landscape-scale management of matrix habitats to increase the stability of
agricultural production systems and provide ‘Ecological resilience’.
Ecological intensification is in line with a number of key EU and global
policies. It will contribute to the greening of the CAP, will strengthen the
Green Infrastructure (COM(2011) 17 final) and is in line with the EU
Biodiversity Strategy (COM(2011) 244 final). Furthermore, the approach is at
the core of the CBD Strategic Plan for 2011-2020. However, successful adoption
of this approach is however critically dependent on the benefits perceived by
key stakeholders but, so far, examples of economic benefits of ecosystem
services have come mainly from outside Europe.
General objectives of LIBERATION
The LIBERATION project aims to provide the evidence-base for the potential
of ecological intensification to sustainably enhance food security with minimal
negative impacts on the environment. This requires a basic insight in how
biodiversity contributes to various ecosystem services and subsequently how
ecosystem services contribute to yield and farm income. Key questions
that will be addressed are:
- How landscape structure and land-use interact
in the provisioning of ecosystem services;
- How farmland biodiversity is related to
multiple ecosystem services;
- Whether there are trade-offs between
different ecosystem services;
- How ecosystem services are related to farm
- How ecosystem services may be influenced by
policy measures at the local, national or EU scale.
Focus on regulating ecosystem services
LIBERATION will focus on the ecosystem services pollination, pest control,
nutrient cycling and soil fertility, thus examining both above- and
below-ground ecosystem services as well as possible trade-offs and synergies.
Implications for greenhouse gas emissions will be explored throughout all
activities in the project. Ecosystem service delivery will be expressed in
terms of (their contribution to) agricultural yield and in terms of farm