Agricultural biodiversity’s contribution to ecosystem functions

By Devra JarvisManaging Water and Agroecosystems for Food Security

While scientific literature has dealt extensively with the relationship between diversity and ecosystem services in natural ecosystems, the relationship between biodiversity and agricultural ecosystems remains under-researched. In response, Chapter 9 of the recently published book edited by Eline Boelee “Managing Water and Agroecosystems for Food Security”, gives attention to the potential role of biological diversity in cultivated ecosystems (of crops and livestock).

Each time a species, crop variety or animal breed becomes locally extinct, their energy and nutrient pathways are disrupted. The disruption of these pathways directly affects the efficiency of the ecosystem and the ability of communities to respond to environmental fluctuations.

Agricultural ecosystems are particularly intertwined with ecosystem services, known as regulating and supporting services. Regulating services provide improved water quality, pollination efficiency, and decrease the vulnerability of an agroecosystem to pests, diseases and natural hazards such as floods and droughts. Supporting services include hydrological cycling, soil nutrient cycling, and soil formation.

This new book gives examples to show how crop, trees and livestock diversity can directly effect ecosystem functions. Diverse plants varieties and animal breeds provide both an increased number of functional traits, and facilitate positive interactions among species, breeds, varieties and key ecosystem services.

Diversity provides support on various levels throughout the ecosystem, e.g. improving soil healthy and quality below ground (diversity of soil organisms) and support to food and habitat diversity above ground (diversity of pollinators). Biological diversity has also been shown to improve the regulation of pest and diseases in farmers’ fields.

The chapter champions the idea that to harness the full value of ecosystem services derived from sustainable water management practices, the integrated use of biological diversity in cultivated ecosystems is a must. However, for this to happen, we must move away from single solutions to production problems, to management practices that support diversified crop and livestock components and practices in the field. Natural resource managers need to recognize, assist and create partnerships with smallholder famers to integrate crop and livestock biodiversity with water and soil management practices. Policies, legal measures and incentives also need to be developed to support production systems with less dependence on external inputs.

Join us for the book launch at the IWMI Exhibition Booth at Stockholm World Water Week, 5:30pm September 4th, 2013, which WLE’s director Andrew Noble and authors Dr. Jarvis will be attending.

This post is based on Chapter 9 of Managing Agroecosystem Services, by Devra I Jarvis, Elizabeth Khaka, Petina L. Pert, Lamourdia Thiombiano, and Eline Boelee.


For more information:

Order a copy of the book

View the Press Release

View Case Study Flyer: Using Agricultural Diversity for Pest and Disease Management

CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems at Stockholm World Water Week


About the Author:

Dr. Devra I. Jarvis is Principal Scientist, Genetic Diversity, Productivity and Resilience, at Bioversity International,  She leads Bioversity International’s cross-disciplinary scientific work on developing practices that use local crop genetic diversity to maintain and improve productivity and resilience in the production systems of smallholder farmers.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *