Long-term enhancement of agricultural production by restoration of biodiversity.
Experimental manipulations have shown positive impacts of increased species richness on ecosystem productivity, but there remain some questions about this relationship. First, most studies last <4 years, which raises issues about whether diversity-productivity relationships are maintained in mature communities. Secondly, the conservation relevance of many studies is debatable. We addressed both issues using long-term experimental studies of the agriculturally relevant hay yield of recreated species-rich grasslands. Grasslands were recreated within replicated experiments in ex-arable fields at two sites in southern England by using either species-poor or species-rich seed mixtures. The species-poor mixture comprised seven grasses as recommended for grassland creation in English agri-environment schemes. The species-rich mixture comprised 11 grasses and 28 forbs and was designed to recreate a typical southern English hay meadow. After 8 years the plots sown with species-rich mixtures resembled target diverse community types. The plots sown with species-poor mixtures had been colonized by a number of forbs but had lower numbers of grasses, legumes and other forbs than the species-rich plots. Increased hay yield of the species-rich plots in the first years of the experiments have been described in an earlier paper, and these differences were maintained after 8 years. In the eighth year the species-rich plots had an average 43% higher hay yield than the species-poor plots. Regression analysis showed that the variation in hay yield was related to differences in the number of non-leguminous forbs and showed no relation to grass or legume numbers. This suggests increased hay yield is an effect of the greater range of life forms exhibited by forbs rather than a simple fertilizing effect of legumes. The nitrogen content and phosphorus content of the hay showed complex treatment effects over time. However, the nutritional value of the hay was above the minimum requirements for livestock. Synthesis and applications. The aims of conservationists and farmers can often be in conflict. This study has shown that the recreation of diverse grasslands of conservation value can have a positive impact on hay yield, which benefits the farm business, and this is repeated across differing sites. Because the effect is maintained over time, farm income will be increased in the long term.