Does agricultural intensification cause tipping points in ecosystem services?

Watson, Stephen C.L.; Newton, Adrian C.; Ridding, Lucy E.; Evans, Paul M.; Brand, Steven; McCracken, Morag; Gosal, Arjan S.; Bullock, James M. ORCID: 2021 Does agricultural intensification cause tipping points in ecosystem services? Landscape Ecology, 36 (12). 3473-3491.

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Context: Agricultural intensification is being widely pursued as a policy option to improve food security and human development. Yet, there is a need to understand the impact of agricultural intensification on the provision of multiple ecosystem services, and to evaluate the possible occurrence of tipping points. Objectives: I.) To quantify and assess the long-term spatial dynamics of ecosystem service (ES) provision in a landscape undergoing agricultural intensification at four time points 1930, 1950, 1980 and 2015. II.) Determine if thresholds or tipping points in ES provision may have occurred and if there are any detectable impacts on economic development and employment. Methods: We used the InVEST suite of software models together with a time series of historical land cover maps and an Input–Output model to evaluate these dynamics over an 85-year period in the county of Dorset, southern England. Results: Results indicated that trends in ES were often non-linear, highlighting the potential for abrupt changes in ES provision to occur in response to slight changes in underlying drivers. Despite the fluctuations in provision of different ES, overall economic activity increased almost linearly during the study interval, in line with the increase in agricultural productivity. Conclusions: Such non-linear thresholds in ES will need to be avoided in the future by approaches aiming to deliver sustainable agricultural intensification. A number of positive feedback mechanisms are identified that suggest these thresholds could be considered as tipping points. However, further research into these feedbacks is required to fully determine the occurrence of tipping points in agricultural systems.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0921-2973
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: agriculture, ecosystem services, thresholds, InVEST modelling, tipping points
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 28 Oct 2021 16:14 +0 (UTC)

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