Permanent grasslands in Europe: Land use change and intensification decrease their multifunctionality

René L.M. Schils*, Conny Bufe, Caroline M. Rhymer, Richard M. Francksen, Valentin H. Klaus, Mohamed Abdalla, Filippo Milazzo, Eszter Lellei-Kovács, Hein ten Berge, Chiara Bertora, Anna Chodkiewicz, Claudia Dǎmǎtîrcǎ, Iris Feigenwinter, Pilar Fernández-Rebollo, Shiva Ghiasi, Stanislav Hejduk, Matthew Hiron, Maria Janicka, Raoul Pellaton, Kate E. SmithRachel Thorman, Tom Vanwalleghem, John Williams, Laura Zavattaro, Jarl Kampen, Ria Derkx, Pete Smith, Mark J. Whittingham, Nina Buchmann, J.P.N. Price

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Permanent grasslands cover 34% of the European Union's agricultural area and are vital for a wide variety of ecosystem services essential for our society. Over recent decades, the permanent grassland area has declined and land use change continues to threaten its extent. Simultaneously, the management intensity of permanent grasslands increased. We performed a systematic literature review on the multifunctionality of permanent grasslands in Europe, examining the effects of land use and management on 19 grassland ecosystem service indicators. Based on the evidence in 696 out of 70,456 screened papers, published since 1980, we found that both land use change and intensification of management decreased multifunctionality. In particular, preventing conversion of permanent grasslands to croplands secured the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. A lower management intensity was associated with benefits for biodiversity, climate regulation and water purification, but impacted the provision of high-quality animal feed. Increasing the number of species in the sward enhanced multifunctionality of permanent grassland without significant trade-offs such as losses in production. Our review covered many aspects of land use, management and ecosystem services, but we also identified areas with no or only few studies. The most prominent gaps were related to comparisons between permanent and temporary grasslands, and effects of management practices on the provision of cultural values, and on erosion and flood control. We suggest that, despite apparent changes in human dietary preferences, the protection of permanent grasslands in Europe must be prioritised. At the same time, considering the need to reduce ruminant livestock's contribution to climate change, the time seems ripe to increase support for low-intensity grassland management to optimise the provision of essential ecosystem services from Europe's permanent grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107891
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


  • Agro-ecology
  • Ecosystem services
  • Grassland
  • Land use change
  • Systematic literature review


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    Schils, R. (Creator), Bufe, C. (Creator), Rhymer, C. M. (Creator), Francksen, R. M. (Creator), Klaus, V. H. (Creator), Abdalla, M. (Creator), Milazzo, F. (Creator), Lellei-kovács, E. (Creator), ten Berge, H. (Creator), Bertora, C. (Creator), Chodkiewiczh, A. (Creator), Dǎmǎtîrcǎg, C. (Creator), Feigenwinter, I. (Creator), Fernández-Rebollo, P. (Creator), Ghiasi, S. (Creator), Hejduk, S. (Creator), Hiron, M. (Creator), Janicka, M. (Creator), Pellaton, R. (Creator), Smith, K. E. (Creator), Thorman, R. (Creator), Vanwalleghem, T. (Creator), Williams, J. (Creator), Zavattaro, L. (Creator), Kampen, J. (Creator), Weijnen-Derkx, R. (Creator), Smith, P. (Creator), Whittingham, M. J. (Creator), Buchmann, N. (Creator) & Newell Price, P. (Creator), Wageningen University & Research, 9 Feb 2022


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