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Positive but variable effects of crop diversification on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Beillouin D., Ben-Ari T., Malézieux E., Seufert V., Makowski D.. 2021. Global Change Biology, 27 (19) : p. 4697-4710.

DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15747

Ecological theory suggests that biodiversity has a positive and stabilizing effect on the delivery of ecosystem services. Yet, the impacts of increasing the diversity of cultivated crop species or varieties in agroecosystems are still under scrutiny. The available empirical evidence is scattered in scope, agronomic and geographic contexts, and impacts on ecosystem services may depend on the type of diversification strategy used. To robustly assess the effects of crop diversification in agroecosystems, we compiled the results of 95 meta-analyses integrating 5156 experiments conducted over 84 experimental years and representing more than 54,500 paired observations on 120 crop species in 85 countries. Overall, our synthesis of experimental data from across the globe shows that crop diversification enhances not only crop production (median effect +14%) but also the associated biodiversity (+24%, i.e., the biodiversity of non-cultivated plants and animals), and several supporting and regulating ecosystem services including water quality (+51%), pest and disease control (+63%) and soil quality (+11%). However, there was substantial variability in the results for each individual ecosystem service between different diversification strategies such as agroforestry, intercropping, cover crops, crop rotation or variety mixtures. Agroforestry is particularly effective in delivering multiple ecosystem services, that is, water regulation and quality, pest and diseases regulation, associated biodiversity, long-term soil productivity and quality. Variety mixtures, instead, provide the lowest benefits, whereas the other strategies show intermediate results. Our results highlight that while increasing the diversity of cultivated crop species or varieties in agroecosystems represents a very promising strategy for more sustainable land management, contributing to enhanced yields, enhanced biodiversity and ecosystem services, some crop diversification strategies are more effective than others in supporting key ecosystem services.

Mots-clés : diversification; biodiversité; services écosystémiques; agroforesterie; agroécosystème; agroécologie; Évaluation de l'impact; rendement des cultures; agrobiodiversité; rotation culturale; culture associée; culture intercalaire; plante de couverture; culture en mélange

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