TALE: Towards multifunctional agricultural landscapes in Europe

The functioning of agroecosystems is altered by progressing climate and land use change. Agricultural productivity is likely to face increasing water and nutrient limitations. Higher irrigation and fertilizer application rates, however, may intensify negative impacts of climate change on water quality.

  • Background (completed research project)

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    Agricultural landscapes provide a multitude of ecosystem services and biodiversity. A balance between different ecosystem services can be achieved either by integrating the provision of services in the same space (land sharing) or by segregating the provision of services in different spatial compartments (land sparing). To provide insights on the long-term prospects of agricultural land management strategies, impacts of alternative land management strategies on the provision of ecosystem services need to be evaluated in combination under different climate change scenarios. Such studies have rarely been conducted so far, but are of great value to support the uptake of sustainable adaptation measures in agricultural and policy frameworks.

  • Aim

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    In this project, we simulated impacts of climate change in combination with possible changes in land management strategies (following assumed shifts in land use policies: land sparing vs. land sharing) in the Broye catchment in Western Switzerland. As key ecosystem service indicators, we consider agricultural productivity, nitrate concentrations and sediment loads in the river as well as low flows and vascular plant species richness in grassland. An integrated modelling framework was applied to evaluate the prospects of either strategy to account for climate change adaptation needs and to maintain multifunctionality in the region on the long term.

  • Results

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    Results suggest that water provisioning and regulating services will be negatively affected by climate change: water availability in the Broye river will decrease – especially during summer months, and linked to that a decrease in water quality is to be expected. These prospects imply emerging challenges to sustainable agriculture in the region. Results from this study also suggest increased nutrient and water limitations to plant productivity with future climate change. Consequently, increasing inputs (i.e. fertilizers and irrigation water) can be considered obvious measures for adaptation in favour of food/fodder production. However, as results from this study show, the increased use of fertilizers and water abstractions for irrigation would put additional pressure on water provisioning and regulating services and on agricultural biodiversity in the region. To prevent such maladaptive responses to climate change, it is important to guide adaptation efforts of farmers by supporting water saving farming practices, the use of alternative water sources for irrigation (e.g. Lake Neuchâtel) and improving nutrient management to reduce leaching.

  • Significance

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    Implication for research

    We provided a first fully integrated assessment of climate change impacts on the provision of multiple ecosystem services in the Broye catchment in Western Switzerland under different prospects of land management strategies, helping to anticipate possible risks of maladaptation to climate change.

    Implication for practice

    Research results highlight the need for further, more detailed studies of possibilities for improving the sustainability of nutrient and water management of agricultural landscapes under future climate change conditions, and call for a better consideration of scientific evidence in the design of future agricultural policy schemes.

  • Original title

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    Towards Multifunctional Agricultural Landscapes in Europe: Assessing and Governing Synergies between Food Production, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (TALE)