CAMBRIDGE, England, Sept. 1 (UPI) — Separating habitats from farmland could save species more effectively than trying to grow crops and conserve nature on the same land, British researchers say.
The separation may be the best way to meet increased food demand with the least impact on wild species, researchers at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said in a release Thursday.
The researchers collected information on more than 600 species in southwest Ghana and northern India, where demand for agricultural land is putting increasing pressure on wild species.
“Farmland with some retained natural vegetation had more species of birds and trees than high-yielding monocultures of oil palm, rice or wheat but produced far less food energy and profit per hectare,” said lead author Dr Ben Phalan from the University of Cambridge. “As well as requiring more land to produce the same amount of food, the ‘wildlife-friendly’ farmlands were not as wildlife-friendly as they first appeared. Compared with forest, they failed to provide good habitat for the majority of bird and tree species in either region.”
Under current and future scenarios of food demand, the researchers said, most species would have larger total populations if farming was restricted to the smallest area feasible, while protecting as much natural forest as possible.
“It would be nice to think that we could conserve species and produce lots of food, all on the same land,” said study co-author Malvika Onial from the University of Cambridge. “But our data from Ghana and India show that’s not the best option for most species.
“To produce a given amount of food, it would be better for biodiversity to farm as productively as possible, if that allows more natural habitat to be protected or restored.”