During the last 50 years, agricultural intensification has caused many wild plant and animal species to go extinct regionally or nationally and has profoundly changed the functioning of agro-ecosystems. Agricultural intensification has many components, such as loss of landscape elements, enlarged farm and field sizes and larger inputs of fertilizer and pesticides. However, very little is known about the relative contribution of these variables to the large-scale negative effects on biodiversity. In this study, we disentangled the impacts of various components of agricultural intensification on species diversity of wild plants, carabids and ground-nesting farmland birds and on the biological control of aphids.
In a Europe-wide study in eight West and East European countries, we found important negative effects of agricultural intensification on wild plant, carabid and bird species diversity and on the potential for biological pest control, as estimated from the number of aphids taken by predators. Of the 13 components of intensification we measured, use of insecticides and fungicides had consistent negative effects on biodiversity. Insecticides also reduced the biological control potential. Organic farming and other agri-environment schemes aiming to mitigate the negative effects of intensive farming on biodiversity did increase the diversity of wild plant and carabid species, but – contrary to our expectations – not the diversity of breeding birds.
We conclude that despite decades of European policy to ban harmful pesticides, the negative effects of pesticides on wild plant and animal species persist, at the same time reducing the opportunities for biological pest control. If biodiversity is to be restored in Europe and opportunities are to be created for crop production utilizing biodiversity-based ecosystem services such as biological pest control, there must be a Europe-wide shift towards farming with minimal use of pesticides over large areas.
- agri-environment schemes
- agricultural landscapes