The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and abundance: a meta-analysis.

Published online
25 May 2005
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Bengtsson, J. & Ahnström, J. & Weibull, A. C.
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The efficiency of agricultural subsidy programmes for preserving biodiversity and improving the environment has been questioned in recent years. Organic farming operates without pesticides, herbicides and inorganic fertilizers, and usually with a more diverse crop rotation. It has been suggested that this system enhances biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. We analysed the effects of organic farming on species richness and abundance using meta-analysis of literature published before December 2002. Organic farming usually increases species richness, having on average 30% higher species richness than conventional farming systems. However, the results were variable among studies, and 16% of them actually showed a negative effect of organic farming on species richness. We therefore divided the data into different organism groups and according to the spatial scale of the study. Birds, insects and plants usually showed an increased species richness in organic farming systems. However, the number of studies was low in most organism groups (range 2-19) and there was significant heterogeneity between studies. The effect of organic farming was largest in studies performed at the plot scale. In studies at the farm scale, when organic and conventional farms were matched according to landscape structure, the effect was significant but highly heterogeneous. On average, organisms were 50% more abundant in organic farming systems, but the results were highly variable between studies and organism groups. Birds, predatory insects, soil organisms and plants responded positively to organic farming, while non-predatory insects and pests did not. The positive effects of organic farming on abundance were prominent at the plot and field scales, but not for farms in matched landscapes. Synthesis and applications. Our results show that organic farming often has positive effects on species richness and abundance, but that its effects are likely to differ between organism groups and landscapes. We suggest that positive effects of organic farming on species richness can be expected in intensively managed agricultural landscapes, but not in small-scale landscapes comprising many other biotopes as well as agricultural fields. Measures to preserve and enhance biodiversity should be more landscape- and farm-specific than is presently the case.

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