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Conservation Strategies must adapt when Landscapes change

The expansion of agriculture into tropical and subtropical forests provides society food and biomass but with high cost to biodiversity. Understanding how exactly agriculture impacts biodiversity is therefore critically important for helping farmers and planners to find ways to avoid biodiversity losses. New research shows that the way biodiversity responds to intensifying agriculture very much depends on the landscape surrounding farms – and landscapes can change drastically as deforestation progresses. This means that conservation strategies must be flexible as well to avoid failing.

A black-bodied woodpecker in the Gran Chaco forest
A black-bodied woodpecker in the Gran Chaco forest

The growing demand for agricultural commodities like soybean, palmoil or beef drive the loss of forest in the Global South. Finding conservation strategies to minimize the loss of biodiversity promoted by an expanding and intensifying agriculture is one of the major challenges of the Anthropocene. A new study by researchers Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Germany) and from CONICET and INTA (Argentina) sheds new light on this question. “Our most important finding is that the response of biodiversity to agriculture varies as the surrounding landscape changes in response to deforestation.  Species respond differently to the same level of agricultural intensity, depending on how much forest is left around”, Dr. Leandro Macchi (CONICET & HU Berlin) lead-author of the study explains.

The team focused on the Gran Chaco, a global deforestation hotspot and one of the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world. It assembled a large datasets of birds and agricultural intensity to analyze how bird communities change as land-use change happens. This goes beyond previous studies that analyzed the biodiversity-agriculture trade-offs only at one point in time, and then assumed that trade-offs remain constant over time. Instead, the researchers found many bird species to switch in their fundamental response to agriculture as landscapes were transformed. Dr. Julieta Decarre from INTA highlights. “Yet, many of these species were only winners in landscapes that still contain a lot of forest but became losers as deforestation progressed. Eventually, these species then disappear from the landscape.”

This finding has far-reaching consequences for farmers and planners. “Our results clearly show that any strategy for protecting the environment can fail if we do not consider that biodiversity might react very differently to the same form of agriculture in landscapes with much or little remaining forest” Tobias Kuemmerle (Humboldt-Universität), senior author of the study explains. “This means we need to constantly monitor how biodiversity reacts as landscapes change – and be ready to change our conservation approach.”


Title: Trade-offs between biodiversity and agriculture are moving targets in dynamic landscapes, Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13699 URL:


Dr. Leandro Macchi
Instituto de Ecología Regional, UNT - CONICET, Argentina Phone +54 381 4255174

Dr. Julieta Decarre
Instituto de Recursos Biológicos (IRB-CIRN), Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA), Argentina Phone: +54 11 58303203 

Dr. Maria Piquer Rodriguez
Freie Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 838 68501 

Prof. Dr. Tobias Kümmerle
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Phone: +49 30 2093 9372