Diverse Farms Found to Play Vital Role in Biodiversity Conservation and Food Security

by Ella

In a groundbreaking study conducted in Costa Rica, researchers from Stanford University have revealed the critical role that diversified farms play in conserving biodiversity and enhancing food security. The study, one of the longest-running investigations of tropical wildlife populations, discovered that smaller farms incorporating a variety of crops, interspersed with forest patches, support numerous forest-dependent bird species. This finding challenges the common assumption that forests are the sole habitats suitable for forest-dwelling wildlife.

Published on September 4 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research compared trends in bird populations across three distinct landscape types in Costa Rica: forests, diversified farms, and intensive agriculture. The study observed the steepest declines in bird populations in forests, followed by intensive agriculture, where invasive species often thrived. In contrast, diversified farms saw an increase in several bird species typically found in forests, including some of conservation concern.


Birds are considered a key indicator of ecosystem health, and the shifts in bird populations documented in this study underscore the changing landscape of Costa Rican agriculture and its impact on biodiversity.


The relationship between biodiversity and food security is mutually beneficial. Diverse bird species contribute to food security by feeding on insects and assisting in crop pollination. Ensuring a variety of bird species is essential for pest control and the pollination of crops. Approximately 75% of the world’s crops rely to some extent on pollinators, which include birds, bats, and other wildlife.


Gretchen Daily, faculty director of the Stanford-based Natural Capital Project (NatCap) and the Stanford Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), emphasized the importance of maintaining a continuous flow of pollinators to support agriculture. She noted that the majority of the world’s most nutritious foods, such as fruits, nuts, and vegetables, depend on pollinators for their production.


Furthermore, the study dispelled the notion that diversified farms yield lower crop yields compared to intensive agriculture. Contrary to this assumption, diversified farms can be just as productive while also providing vital habitats for wildlife.

The research highlights the importance of working landscapes, including farms, in preserving biodiversity and its associated benefits. Protected areas, although essential, are insufficient in providing the necessary ecosystem services for both humans and nature. Diversified farms not only serve as habitats themselves but also connect fragmented forested areas, further enhancing their significance in conservation efforts.

The findings have significant implications for global agriculture, suggesting that sustainable farming practices can contribute to both biodiversity conservation and food security. By recognizing the vital role of farmers in supporting biodiversity, policymakers can incentivize best management practices and further integrate conservation efforts into farming landscapes.

Costa Rica serves as a notable example in this regard. The country, once experiencing rapid deforestation, reversed the trend by implementing the world’s first countrywide payment for ecosystem services (PES) program. Today, nearly 60% of Costa Rica’s land is covered by forests, up from 40% in 1987. The government is now working on expanding PES programs to incentivize farmers to adopt sustainable practices, building on their successful conservation efforts.

The study’s co-author, Tadashi Fukami, underscored the importance of establishing reciprocal relationships with the local ecological community, a principle embraced by Indigenous communities worldwide. The research confirms that humans can coexist with and support the broader ecological community they are a part of, reinforcing the importance of sustainable farming practices in the modern world.



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