BASIL: Landscape-scale biodiversity and the balancing of provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services
Global change may endanger agricultural landscape functioning in the future. Biodiversity has the potential to buffer ecosystems against change and stabilise ecosystem functions and services. However, the suitable level of biodiversity to maximize ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes is not yet known and quantified.
BASIL aims at understanding the importance of diversity from the field to the agricultural landscape scale evaluating the mosaic of extensively and intensively managed sites and natural habitats for ecosystem services and a sustainable agriculture.
BASIL will cover the following specific objectives:
- to understand differences between extensively and intensively managed agricultural landscapes in terms of biodiversity and provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services;
- to determine the contribution of plant and microbial diversity to the closure of nutrient cycles, the synchronisation of plant nitrogen (N) requirement and soil N, and the coupling of carbon (C) and N cycles;
- to determine the necessary level of integration of biodiversity, e.g., the fraction of natural habitats within an agricultural matrix, that is required to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture by performing landscape trait-based analyses;
- to identify particular landscape structures and cropping systems promoting biodiversity and its contribution to ecosystem services (e.g., water quality, soil conservation, preservation of soil structure and biodiversity, C and N storage, weed and pest control);
- to assess the importance of different policies and governance systems that have an impact on environmental and economic sustainability via agricultural landscape management. Impacts may differ within EU countries, as national and regional governance systems supplement EU-policies, and between EU countries and Switzerland, which has its own agricultural and nature-conservation policies.
To achieve its objectives, BASIL will:
- assess the N availability and N cycling in the landscape, that is, the temporal and spatial distribution of nitrogen across landscapes including bordering zones of intensively managed agricultural fields and natural ecosystems;
- assess management impact on soil microbial communities and their regulation of C and N cycles, both experimentally and by modelling, using “Symphony”, a model embedding the soil ‘bank-mechanism’. This C-N coupled model integrates two microbial functional groups regulating soil organic matter dynamics and N-availability for plants;
- test whether forests or semi-natural areas as well as natural patches in agricultural fields (e.g. in-field ponds) are stepping stones for belowground microbial re-colonization of intensively used areas after disturbance (hidden horizontal veins) by quantifying the spatial and temporal microbial abundance and diversity in the different landscape types;
- investigate whether subsoils (soil below the plough horizon) of agricultural fields are reservoirs for mycorrhizal fungi that may re-colonize topsoils of intensively used areas after disturbance (hidden vertical veins);
- conduct surveys, stakeholder workshops and expert interviews, and use the research results to perform a socio-economic analysis to understand the impact of regional/national agricultural and conservationist policies on management practices. Four ecosystem services will be assessed with information of the relevant landscape traits provided by field work packages and by literature analyses.
The BASIL project is being developed in contact with networks of farmers who promote the use of different plant species and reduced soil tillage in order to 1) benefit from their field observations and 2) transfer to them our scientific knowledge. To promote the dissemination of project outputs and engage with stakeholders, BASIL will set up contacts with national, international and global environmental agencies that have an overlapping interest in the goals of our project, with policy makers and administration to conduct interviews, keep them informed about the project steps and schedules, exchange the results of the project and develop a policy brief. BASIL plans to organize visits for the general public to the different study sites and, thus, give visibility to the project and its goals to a broader audience. In the context of the International Year of Soils (2015), BASIL will disseminate its objectives and activities at the Global Soil Week organized in 2015 in Berlin.