Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


LIBERATION Report Summary

Project ID: 311781
Funded under: FP7-KBBE
Country: Netherlands

Final Report Summary - LIBERATION (LInking farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem seRvices for effective ecofunctional intensificATION)

Executive Summary:
The LIBERATION project on Linking Farmland Biodiversity to Ecosystem services for effective ecological intensification brought together about 40 scientists over a period of four years (2013-2017). LIBERATION aimed to establish how on-farm management and semi-natural habitats promoting biodiversity contribute to agricultural productivity and farm income in representative agricultural landscapes in Europe through the provision of multiple ecosystem services. Specific aims of LIBERATION were to: (1) identify general relationships between semi-natural habitats, on-farm management and biodiversity; (2) link farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services; (3) examine different strategies to mitigate biodiversity loss and promote ecosystem services, (4) quantify the impact of ecosystem services on crop yield, (5) quantify the socio-economic implications of ecological intensification, (6) evaluate the contribution of ecosystem services at different land-use scenario’s and (7) demonstrate our findings and disseminate them to a wide range of stakeholders.
Bringing together raw data from 63 field studies done in 1500 field sites, LIBERATION found that functional biodiversity was mainly affected, negatively, by increasing amounts of arable land in the landscape, and positively by low on-farm management intensity. Abundance of pollinators and natural enemies was highest at low on-farm management intensity, but the opposite was true for pests. Abundance of pollinators and especially natural enemies were positively related to semi-natural habitat cover, while pest abundance showed more complex relationships with semi-natural habitat cover. Below-ground functional biodiversity was linked to on-farm management with little or no influence of semi-natural habitats.
LIBERATION performed a cross-continental study on 114 fields examining the potential of functional biodiversity to (partly) replace inputs of artificial fertilizer and pesticides in crop production. Focused field studies were furthermore done to examine the effects of promising biodiversity-enhancing management practices on ecosystem service provisioning. These were supplemented by a range of more detailed pot and glasshouse studies to elucidate the mechanisms underlying biodiversity effects on a variety of ecosystem services. These studies highlight that biodiversity contributes great value to farming and, under the right conditions, biodiversity-based solutions are a viable alternative to agro-chemical based agricultural management. However, under other circumstances biodiversity is poorly linked to ecosystem service delivery suggesting that the potential for ecosystem service based management in agriculture is context-dependent and differs with, for example, crop, landscape and soil type.
Modelling studies showed that, at the long term, ecological intensification has the potential to boost future agricultural productivity while reducing environmental degradation. However, it will involve substantial short-term costs to farmers to achieve higher levels of services in the future. This suggests that policies for education and awareness raising can facilitate the uptake of ecological intensification practices. The time lag between implementing measures to benefit biodiversity and realizing higher flows of ecosystem services, as well as the current policy focus on the farm scale rather than landscape characteristics, is likely to hinder ecological intensification under the current Common Agricultural Policy framework.
LIBERATION found that the appropriate management of soils, specifically soil fertility, is of greatest concern to farmers. Water availability and pollination are also seen as important, with weed, pest and disease management considered of less concern, perhaps because it is felt that these can currently be more easily managed through mechanical and chemical means. Farmers showed a clear risk aversion when it came to decisions affecting their agricultural yield. Farmers can be interested in relying more on ecosystem services if this would reduce yield variability. There is a good understanding in the farming community of the benefits of a healthy environment, but this does not necessarily translate into agricultural practice.
LIBERATION has already produced 24 peer-reviewed papers, some in the highest impact journals, with many further expected. The project has delivered almost 300 dissemination activities including international and national conferences, workshops, TV, radio and press coverage and produced a wide range of materials such as policy briefs, press releases and a video clip. The webpage ( has been visited by more than 23,000 users. The LIBERATION project leaves a vibrant network of scientists and stakeholders that continues to work and collaborate on this topic in varying compositions in a range of national and international projects.
(Lay summary of LIBERATION in 3 minutes: https://youtube/xZ0zw8knDqg)
Project Context and Objectives:
The next few decades will witness a rapidly increasing demand for agricultural products. The growing demand for agricultural products needs to be met largely through intensification (produce more from the same land surface) because there is little scope for an increase in agricultural area without doing irreparable damage to vital natural ecosystems. The steady increases in agricultural productivity per unit area seen through the latter part of the 20th century have now plateaued with little opportunity for further increases in efficiency through conventional methods. The dependency of conventional agriculture and food supply on non-renewable resources (e.g. fossil fuels, phosphate) makes it unsustainable in the long run. Ecological intensification has been proposed as a promising solution (Bommarco et al. 2013). Ecological intensification is the optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services in the agricultural production process. This approach is in line with a number of key EU and global policies. It will contribute to the greening of the CAP, will strengthen the Green Infrastructure (COM(2011) 17 final) and is in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy (COM(2011) 244 final). Furthermore, the approach is at the core of the CBD Strategic Plan for 2011-2020.

The effects of management and landscape structure on biodiversity and delivery of ecosystem services

Successful ecological intensification requires basic insights in how agricultural management and landscape structure affect biodiversity, how biodiversity contributes to various ecosystem services and how ecosystem services contribute to yield and farm income. Quantifying the link between biodiversity and ecosystem services in real world landscapes remains a major scientific challenge (Balvanera et al. 2006). Much of our knowledge originates from small-scaled studies (e.g Isbell et al. 2011). In recent years, there is increasing evidence that also at the large-scale biodiversity is related to for example higher and more stable yields or reduced pesticide inputs (Meehan et al. 2011). However, most existing information about ecosystem services in agricultural contexts comes from tropical systems where biodiversity levels are still high and reliance on external inputs is relatively low (Perfecto & VanderMeer 2010). Little information exists about ecosystem services provided in the high-input agricultural systems that are common in large areas in Europe. Open questions that remain are how landscape structure (semi-natural habitats) and land-use (on-farm management) interact in their effects on biodiversity (e.g. Kleijn et al. 2011), how farmland biodiversity is related to multiple ecosystem services (e.g. Isbell et al. 2011) and whether there are trade-offs between different ecosystem services (Power 2010).

Relations between ecological intensification practices, crop yield, farm income and farmers attitude

Successful implementation of ecological intensification depends crucially on farmers’ willingness to implement complex management measures and on the actual impact of such measures on crop yield and farmers’ income. Decisions made by farmers on farm are key determinants of land-use change and therefore affect biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery. Farmers, in turn, are influenced by policy and economic signals such as the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. To identify more sustainable agricultural practices and appropriate policy measures, insights are necessary of farmers’ responses to economic, technology and policy signals (Sutherland et al., 2008). Furthermore we need to be able to provide farmers with the information they need to base their decisions on. These include the quantification of the impact of landscape structure and on-farm management on yields of major crops they are growing and the identification of synergies and trade-offs among ecosystem services and the combined effects on farm profits.

Project Objectives
The LIBERATION project has seven broad objectives (corresponding to the seven RTD workpackages), each of which comprises several specific sub-objectives or ‘Tasks’.

Objective 1: Identify general relationships between semi-natural habitats, on-farm management intensity and biodiversity
• Characterise the general relationships between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management and above-ground biodiversity of different functional species groups in Europe (Task 1.1);
• Characterise the general relationships between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management and below-ground biodiversity of different functional species groups in Europe (Task 1.2);
• Identify synergies and trade-offs between drivers promoting above- and below-ground biodiversity (Task 1.3)

Objective 2: Link biodiversity to ecosystem services on farmland
• Quantify the relationship between semi-natural habitats, on-farm management intensity and multiple ecosystem services delivered by biodiversity in representative farming systems across Europe (Task 2.1);
• Examine the importance of species identity and functional traits for below- and above-ground ecosystem service delivery (Task 2.2);
• Examine interactions and trade-offs between below- and above-ground ecosystem services in a selection of key European crops (Task 2.3)

Objective 3: Explore strategies to mitigate biodiversity loss and enhance ecosystem services
• Assess the effectiveness of a number of promising on-field management practices for promoting ecosystem services (Task 3.1);
• Assess the effectiveness of both existing and newly created off-field management practices for promoting ecosystem services (Task 3.2);
• Characterise the effects of combinations of on- and off-field mitigation options on ecosystem services (Task 3.3)

Objective 4: Quantifying the role of ecosystem services in crop production at farm and landscape scales
• Develop a landscape model that uses production functions to relate crop yield in individual fields to flows of multiple ecosystem services as influenced by field and landscape characteristics (Task 4.1);
• Calibrate the landscape model to seven pan-European case-study landscapes and map flows of ecosystem services and agricultural yields (Task 4.2);
• Analyse trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services under eco-functional intensification (Task 4.3)

Objective 5: Quantifying socio-economic implications of eco-functional intensification
In order to reach this general objective WP 5 will:
• Examine effects of eco-functional intensification on farmers profits (Task 5.1);
• Analyse income volatility over time in relation to biodiversity and ecosystem services (Task 5.2);
• Survey farmers’ perspectives and attitudes towards mobilization of on-farm ecosystem services (Task 5.3)

Objective 6: Evaluate the environmental, policy and management implications of eco-functional intensification
• Evaluate the potential of eco-functional intensification under different future land-use scenarios (Task 6.1);
• Examine how promotion of ecosystem services contributing to crop production impact on greenhouse gas emission (Task 6.2);
• Provide management and policy recommendations on appropriate rates and quality of semi-natural habitats and on farm management (Task 6.3)

Objective 7: Communicate, disseminate and provide training on effective eco-functional intensification
• Establish a general communication and dissemination strategy (Task 7.1);
• Initiate international stakeholders’ dialogue by means of a website and information dissemination platform, along with a network providing guidance in developing the evidence base for eco-functional intensification (Task 7.2a);
• Form linkages between farmers practicing ecological intensification and local governments (Task 7.2b);
• Foster close cooperation of the work package teams and promote a general overview on the project (Task 7.3a);
• Build capacity amongst early career professionals and policy makers to address and support eco-functional intensification (Task 7.3b);
• Demonstrate management options promoting eco-functional intensification (Task 7.4);

Balvanera, P., Pfisterer, A.B., Buchmann, N., He, J.S., Nakashizuka, T., Raffaelli, D. & Schmid, B. 2006. Quantifying the evidence for biodiversity effects on ecosystem functioning and services. Ecology Letters 9: 1146-1156.
Bommarco, R., Kleijn, D. & Potts, S.G. 2013. Ecological intensification: harnessing ecosystem services for food security. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 28: 230-238
Isbell, F., Calcagno, V., Hector, A. et al. 2011. High plant diversity is needed to maintain ecosystem services. Nature 477: 199-U96.
Kleijn, D., Rundlöf, M., Scheper, J., Smith, H.G. & Tscharntke, T. (2011) Does conservation on farmland contribute to halting the biodiversity decline? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 26: 474-481.
Meehan, T.D., Werling, B.P., Landis, D.A. & Gratton, C. 2011. Agricultural landscape simplification and insecticide use in the Midwestern United States Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 108: 11500-11505.
Perfecto, I. & Vandermeer, J. 2010. The agroecological matrix as alternative to the land-sparing/agriculture intensification model. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 107: 5786-5791.
Power, A. G. 2010. Ecosystem services and agriculture: tradeoffs and synergies. - Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 365: 2959-2971.
Sutherland, W.J., Bailey, M.J., Bainbridge, I.P., Brereton, T., Dick, J.T.A., Drewitt, J., Dulvy, N.K., Dusic, N.R., Freckleton, R.P., Gaston, K.J., Gilder, P.M., Green, R.E., Heathwaite, A.L., Johnson, S.M., Macdonald, D.W., Mitchell, R., Osborn, D., Owen, R.P., Pretty, J., Prior, S.V., Prosser, H., Pullin, A.S., Rose, P., Stott, A., Tew, T., Thomas, C.D., Thompson, D.B.A., Vickery, J.A., Walker, M., Walmsley, C., Warrington, S., Watkinson, A.R., Williams, R.J., Woodroffe, R., Woodroof, H.J. (2008) Future novel threats and opportunities facing UK biodiversity identified by horizon scanning. Journal of Applied Ecology 45: 821-833.

Project Results:

Task 1.1: Characterise general relationships between semi-natural habitats and on-farm management on above-ground biodiversity of different functional species groups in Europe
The LIBERATION project constructed a database of field studies on the effects of local, on-farm management practices and landscape context (proportions of semi-natural habitat and arable land in a radius around fields) on above-ground biodiversity. The database comprises the raw data from 63 field studies replicated in over 1500 sampling sites. In a subset of studies, land use maps are accessible for calculating standardised landscape variables across studies. The database was used for a quantitative synthesis on the relationship between land use and management intensity and above-ground biodiversity. Data from 43 studies were included. We show that increasing amounts of arable land in the landscape, and increasing management intensity within crop fields, had negative impacts on the number of species of above-ground organisms. In contrast, impacts on organism abundance varied between pollinators, pests and natural enemies. Pests were more abundant when local management intensity was high, pointing to a negative feedback loop of intense pesticide use. Pollinators and enemies benefitted from conditions of low local intensity as found in fields under organic management. At the landscape level, pollinators and enemies were more abundant in areas with high amounts of semi-natural habitat, but this effect was multiplied for natural enemies when habitat patches were small and interspersed between crop fields. Overall, these results describe the conditions under which agricultural landscapes host key service-providing organisms. They emphasize the interdependency of multiple factors and scales in forming these conditions, and show that protection of large areas of natural or semi-natural habitat is not as beneficial for some organisms as maintaining small fields separated by hedgerows and field margins. Integration of these results into predictive simulation models will improve assessments of field and landscape-scale management scenarios and thus help support ecological intensification of agricultural areas under global change.

Task 1.2: Characterise general relationships between semi-natural habitats, on-farm management and below-ground biodiversity of different functional species groups in Europe
A systematic literature search was carried out to build a database on which to carry out a meta-analysis on the impacts of within-field management practices on a number of key below-ground soil taxa. A number of data-holders were approached and a large UK dataset incorporating soil cores from across the UK was accessed and local landscape characterised for more than 400 locations in order to assess effects of local landscape on below-ground biodiversity. To understand within-field management practice effects on below-ground biota, a quantitative literature review and meta-analysis was carried out on these data. The impact of management practices such as reduced tillage, crop rotation, diversification and fertiliser application on taxa including earthworms, mites, collembolans and nematodes was investigated. To determine effects of land management and the proportion of local semi-natural habitat on abundance and diversity of soil taxa, the UK dataset of soil cores was analysed. We found that management practices implemented within the field affect a number of soil taxa. There are consistent negative effects of tillage on the abundance of earthworms, mites and nematodes. Positive effects of organic fertilizer were found for earthworms and soil taxa overall. Similarly the effects of spatial and temporal crop diversification were generally positive, although there was considerable variation between cropping systems. Some effects of local landscape on mites were observed but strong effect of the farming system from which the soil was collected are clear for taxa richness, mites and collembolans, probably driven by management of those soils. This study demonstrates that the effects of within field management on soil taxa is greater than impacts of local landscape composition.

Task 1.3: Identify synergies and trade-offs between drivers promoting above- and below-ground biodiversity
Biodiversity provides important ecosystem functions and related services below-ground such as decomposition, nutrient cycling, pest control, and above-ground through, for instance, pollination and pest control. Biodiversity is strongly affected by the way we manage our cropped fields and agricultural landscapes in terms of nutrient management, plant protection, tillage, crop rotation and management of non-cropped areas. Components of biodiversity below-and above-ground may respond differently to management and there can exist synergies and trade-offs in managing for certain types of biodiversity (e.g. for soil organisms or pollinating insects). We searched the literature and found few studies that address this issue empirically. Research has targeted the effects of specific management practices on biodiversity below-ground or aboveground taxa in isolation. Although below- and above-ground biodiversity are linked in food webs, there is almost a complete absence of research assessing impacts of local farm management or landscape context on below- and above-ground biodiversity components of biodiversity in the same study. We suggested two approaches to tackle this significant knowledge gap. First, we suggested meta-analytical techniques comparing effect sizes from studies targeted on impacts of specific management practices on either above- or below-ground taxa. We reviewed the literature using this approach and, in addition, provided a practical example based on data we have collected in LIBERATION and previous research from the group. Second, we highlighted the necessity of data collection on multiple biodiversity components below- and above-ground simultaneously from field experiments along land use gradients, testing impacts of alternative management practices. For each approach, we outlined pros and cons. Meta-analytical approaches can give us preliminary indications on the effects of management practice changes on multiple important taxa. However, because below- and above-ground biodiversity are linked food webs, estimation of impacts on biodiversity below- and above-ground simultaneously in the same study are needed for robust quantifications of these effects.



Task 2.1 Quantifying the relationship between semi-natural habitats, on farm management and delivery of multiple ecosystem services by biodiversity in representative farming systems across Europe
We performed a joint field study with standardized protocols agreed upon at meetings in Uppsala, Sweden and at the general meeting in Hungary. Fields were selected in seven European countries (Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, UK). In each country, 16 fields with cereals (14 in Hungary) were selected. Fields were organised in pairs with high or low soil organic matter. Field pairs were located in agricultural landscapes with different proportions of semi-natural habitats covering a representative gradient in each country. Each field site was divided into four plots. Two plots were given mineral fertilizers at recommended rates for conventional farming in the region, two plots were sprayed with insecticides to control aphid attacks. In each field, site, and treatment plot, biological control of aphid pests was measured with cage experiments and field counts of aphids and their natural enemies. We subsequently related differences in yield due to biodiversity of the target species groups and measured ecosystem service delivery (pest control, soil organic matter) at local and landscape scale. The experimental study design allowed us to disentangle effects of ecosystem services from effects of agricultural activities that inevitably will differ between agricultural fields below and above ground. In this pan-European study encompassing 114 arable fields from 7 countries we demonstrate that management for soil fertility via enhancement of soil organic carbon (SOC) locally, and landscape level management of biological pest control services affects crop yield. We found that fertilization reduced the yield benefit of high SOC and pest control. Contrary, in low SOC, fertilized fields aphid abundances were low and control high, reducing the need for insecticides. We furthermore show that enhancing pest control through increasing landscape complexity can prove disappointing if soil services are not considered. Understanding ecological interdependences between land-use, ecosystem services and yield can help promote environmentally friendly farming by identifying situations where ecosystem services are maximized and agrochemical inputs can be reduced.
In Germany we additionally used the experiments established in this task to investigate the role of landscape-level (regional) crop diversity on bird diversity and biological control. This study had two components: 1) bird monitoring to determine the maximum bird abundance per field for every species observed. Bird species were characterized according to their functional role (diet and habitat preference, red list status), and 2) a natural enemy exclusion experiment to assess the role of bird and insect predation for aphid regulation in winter wheat. Results indicated that total bird abundances and the abundance of insect-feeding and red-listed endangered species were enhanced by the variety of crops grown within the landscape, especially on farm scale, and in landscapes where the amount of additional habitat in form of semi-natural (non-crop) habitat was large. Crop diversification had no effect on bird species richness, which was mainly driven by the amount of semi-natural habitat in the area. Furthermore, the exclusion experiment showed that increasing the number of crop types grown within the landscape can benefit the regulation of aphids in winter wheat, as a high variety of crops provides continuous and diverse resources for natural enemies. Biological control increased between 23 and 51%, and may therefore allow for the reduction of pesticide usage by enhancing crop diversity on farm and landscape level.
We furthermore explored how SOM related to N-, P- and K-mineralization and aphid pest performance and crop yield in four European countries to examine how fertilizer supply affects ecosystem services and yield in fields that represent a SOC content gradient. We found that high SOC content and fertilizer supply did not change potential nutrient availability. However, in fields with high SOC content, mineral fertilizer supply tended to decrease potential availability of potassium. A high SOC content related to lower aphid numbers under fertilizer supply, but SOC content or fertilizer supply had no effect on aphid parasitism rate or ground-dwelling predator abundance. Fields with high potential mineralization rates had a diminished positive effect of fertilizer on wheat yield. Our study shows that a higher SOC content does not automatically translate into more mineralization, pest control, and higher yields of wheat. These results suggest that enhancements of SOC do not necessarily translate into enhanced provisioning of ecosystem services. We propose that more insights are needed on the quality of SOC and environmental conditions under which SOC promotes ecosystem services.
In another multi-country analysis based on the field study of Task 2.1 we examined how SOM and fertiliser application impact wheat morphology and aphid performance. We show that at current levels found in the field, greater SOM can increase wheat yield by 10% but it cannot offset nitrogen application entirely. The response of aphid pests to soil fertility management depends on species. Metopolophium dirhodum aphid populations were more than four times greater in nitrogen fertilised plots and their pest status was positively related to crop biomass, as was Rhopalosiphum padi. Although the reproductive potential of Sitobion avenae was improved following application of nitrogen fertiliser, across all sites, S. avenae population densities were not affected by fertiliser or SOM. Bottom-up effects of soil management appear to be a strong driver of field populations of some aphid pests but our study shows that increasing levels of SOM can support greater crop yield without additional effects on cereal pests. While nitrogen fertiliser application is important to underpin high yields, it can also increase pest problems. Soil fertility management has a key role to play in the sustainable and ecological intensification of cereal cropping in Europe and yield benefits derived from improved soil organic matter, and avoiding inefficient use of fertiliser will improve yield and minimise the impact of pests on these crops.
In a final study we aimed to determine links between aboveground and belowground strategies of major crops. Crop species depend in different degrees on ecosystem services such as pollination and pest control. However, crops are embedded in a network of interactions including other positive and negative interactions (e.g. pests). It is known that these services and disservices often interact, however, the knowledge on how yield loss due to specific pests, abiotic stresses and insect pollination occurs is scattered over a large number of publications that often focus on specific crop species and specific stresses and rarely include interactions among the actors. A comprehensive overview of stress vulnerability among crop species as well as the determination of plant strategies to deal with stresses and services is therefore lacking. Data from LIBERATION was used on pollination dependence, aboveground and belowground pest vulnerability (yield loss) and belowground mutualists of the most important crop species. We found that approximately 20% of the 39 crops analysed are highly vulnerable to insect pests, while only about 5% is to nematode pests. However, the prevalence of plants sensitivities to different pests is highly variable. Around 65% of the analysed crops forms an association with mycorrhiza, while 5% of the species forms an association with nitrogen fixing bacteria. Around 5% of the crops species is heavily dependent on insect pollination. Although there is a weak trade-off between mycorrhizal associations and pollinator dependency, species with nitrogen fixing bacteria tend to be more vulnerable for nematodes. These results suggest that different crop species use many different (unique) strategies.

Task 2.2 Understanding the importance of species identity and functional traits for below- and above-ground ecosystem functioning
Using ground beetle species composition data from LIBERATION studies in nine experiments in five countries, we compared the performance of species based- ,functional trait-, and abundance- based metrics. We analyzed how different metrics of ground beetle community respond on landscape, management and soil parameters in ground beetle communities, and explored the potential use and limitations of functional trait versus abundance- or species-based approaches. The following metrics were compared: abundance, Shannon Diversity, Functional Distance, Functional Evenness, Functional Richness, Community Weighed Averaged Body Size. All these parameters were calculated for the database, without the locally most common species as well. We found, that soil organic carbon showed the highest influence on carabid metrics. Landscape composition influenced the abundance without the most common species, local management influenced the community weighed body mass only, while fertilizer contrast did not change abundance, diversity or functional diversity of ground beetles. Predictive abilities of functional indices did not outperform abundance or species information. Out of all the metrics the best performance occurred when abundance and indices were calculated without the common species.
We performed a small-scale experiment on the importance of organic fertilizers for bumblebee visitation rate in field bean in 2015. The experiment was carried out on fields where as a part of long term experiment long term fertilizer treatments were applied. However, there were only four bumblebee species on those fields with a high dominance of one species, so the functional trait approach could not be tested in this experiment. Bumblebee visitation rate was measured under several long term fertilisation schemes in field bean fields. We found that manure application resulted in a high field bean yield and at the same time attracted the main pollinators of the crop. In conclusion, organic fertiliser application in this crop is a win-win situation, both brings higher economic benefit and favours for pollinator conservation.

Task 2.3 Understanding interactions between above- and below-ground ecosystem services for major European crops
In this task we have explored a number of potential interactive effects on yield from combinations of ecosystem services below and above ground, resources to the plant, agricultural inputs and soil management alternatives. A great number of experiments have been performed by several partners. A general finding is that we often find interactive effects of combined pressures, or resources on the crop plant. For instance, pollination benefits decrease as more nitrogen is available to the plant. Poor management of the soil via poor crop rotation, or low nutrient availability can cancel pollination benefits. But the interaction can also go in the opposite direction; we found in another study that pollination benefits can offset poor management of soil fertility through soil compaction. We have now amassed a number of studies encompassing interactive benefits of services and management options for major crops and are preparing a review article to summarize the many results.
In a factorial field plot experiment, we manipulated inorganic nitrogen (high and low levels applied to the crop) and insect pollinators (with vs without) and their combined effects on oilseed rape yield were quantified. A third factor was also included, testing whether different cultivars responded differently to the tested factors. Insect pollination was required to reach high yield and seed quality (oil content). Final benefits of pollination service were, however, greatly modified by cultivar, where the seed yield of the open-pollinated cultivar largely depended on insect pollination whereas the two hybrid cultivars did not. A near significant interaction between nitrogen input and insect pollination was also found, i.e. benefits to crop yield from insect pollination seemed to increase with decreased nitrogen levels. The differential response of the three cultivars suggested opportunities to use cultivars that are less dependent on insect pollination in landscapes where this service has been deteriorated. Increased access of nitrogen seems to partly compensate yield losses from poor insect pollination. Integrating conservation, environmental and agronomic sciences is therefore crucial to sustain agriculture productions through optimized management of agronomic inputs and biodiversity-based ecosystem services.
In a pot experiment, the combined effects of pollination and soil fertility in sunflower were explored using soils from a trial characterized by different long-term input management in order to recreate plausible levels of soil fertility. Pollinator exclusion was used as a proxy for a highly eroded pollination service. Pollination benefits to yield depended on soil fertility, i.e., insect pollination enhanced seed set and yield only under higher soil fertility indicating that limited nutrient availability may constrain pollination benefits. This study provides evidence for interactions between above- and belowground ecosystem services, highlighting the crucial role of soil fertility in supporting agricultural production not only directly, but also indirectly through pollination. Management strategies aimed at enhancing pollination services might fail in increasing yield in landscapes characterized by high soil service degradation. Comprehensive knowledge about service interactions is therefore essential for the correct management of ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.
In a greenhouse pot experiment we assessed how crop pollination and biological nitrogen fixation contributed to yield in field beans and how this might be influenced by crop monoculture crop rotation and soil compaction. The combined effect of crop rotation, soil compaction, and pollination on yield formation and on the contribution of biological fixation to nitrogen acquisition of field bean was examined. Seed yield was reduced under high soil compaction and, under ley rotation management, and it was enhanced by insect pollination. In soil from the ley rotation, insect pollination increased individual seed weight by 50% suggesting a contribution to seed quality by pollination for crop grown in soils where nutrients are limiting yield. Crop monoculture and high soil compaction interactively reduced the contribution of nitrogen fixation by 30%, suggesting that soil compaction might exacerbates the negative effect of monoculture on nitrogen fixation. Overall the results revealed that interactive effects of management factors do affect nutrient acquisition, and that reduced soil quality affect the capacity of legumes to deliver key ecosystem services to the agroecosystem.
In a greenhouse experiment, the effects of nitrogen (N) fertilization on the performance of the grain aphid (Sitobion avenae, F.) was examined under different conditions of SOM content and water availability. We found SOM content and water availability to influence the positive effects of N fertilization on aphid growth: N fertilization promoted higher aphid development time, fecundity and final biomass under low SOM levels and under well-watered conditions. The current practices promoting SOM and associated ecosystems services may not have negative consequence on crop protection under conventional cropping systems. Moreover, although drought can have severe negative impacts on wheat production, the crop should be able to cope better with aphid attacks than under normal weather conditions.
In a semi-field experiment the benefits of insect pollination to yield were measured along a gradient in nitrogen (N) availability in sunflower (4 levels of N fertilization). Pollinator exclusion for different amount of time was used as a proxy for different levels of pollination service (0, 25, 50 and 100 % pollination). Pollination benefits to yield depended on the level of nitrogen fertilization: the maximum gain in yield owing to pollination was stronger at intermediate levels of N fertilization (21% yield gain respect to pollinator exclusion) and lower at the extremes (11% yield gain respect to pollinator exclusion). 50 and 100% pollination always recorded the same amount of yield whereas 25% pollination caused yield loss only at low fertilization level. Our study provides evidence for the existence of optimal levels of agronomic inputs able to maximize pollination benefits to yield.
A pot experiment on the separate and combined effects of organic soil management and root herbivory on pollinator visitation rate and seed production were tested in a factorial experiment using potted mustard Sinapis alba plants Soil organic management and underground herbivory positively affected total number of pollinator visits, but not the duration of insect visits, suggesting that root herbivory can alter flower attractiveness to pollinators. Plant traits (height, total number of flowers, stem and root biomass) were not affected by the treatments, demonstrating the plant’s ability to compensate for root damage. The higher pollinator visitation rate, however, did not result in a higher seed production in plants grown in organic soils and attacked by root herbivores.
Finally, we are preparing a review paper to give an overview of what we understand about how multiple ecosystem services modify pollination benefits to crop yield. Variability in pollination benefits to crop production is high due to several often-neglected factors besides pollinator loss. Taking advantage of the theoretical research done in the field of pollination biology, we present a framework for a deeper understanding of the factors driving pollination benefits to crop production and the interactions with concomitant ecosystem services. Pollination benefits are intrinsically linked to plant physiology and increase with resource availability. Soil and pest control services can affect pollination contribution to crop production altering the amount of resources a plant can allocate to reproduction, independently to the level of pollination service provision. Specific life history traits also play a decisive role in shaping the way crop react to resource variability. The identification of management strategies that support the provision of multiple ecosystem services is a crucial step to maximize pollination benefits in agroecosystems.



Task 3.1. Assess the effectiveness of a number of promising on-field management practices for promoting ecosystem services

This involved studying the effectiveness of three different types of on-field management practices in promoting ecological intensification including cover crops, mixed cropping and crop rotation.

Task 3.1a Cover Crops: Cover crops used in conjunction with conservation tillage can have a significant positive effect on soil organic matter and the abundance of natural predators (Tamburini et al. 2015, 2016). Although increases in weed abundance and diversity under conservation tillage were found, this did not affect yield negatively and could potentially be a source of service providing organisms. In an additional we disentangled the effects of cover crops and tillage and preliminary results indicate that aphid numbers are reduced under conservation tillage, regardless of the addition of cover crops (Redlich & Steffan-Dewenter, in prep). However, ploughed plots with no cover crops had the highest aphid abundance, suggesting potential benefits from the addition of cover crops under low or intense tillage. The addition of cover crops also had a positive impact on yield and further analyses will establish the significance of these differences.

Task 3.1b Mixed cropping: Work on the effects of mixed cropping on biodiversity and the promotion of ecosystem services was carried out in a glasshouse trial in Germany and a field study in Poland. Results from Germany showed mixed crops did not increase the potential for pest regulation and highlights that potential benefits of cover crops are highly dependent on crop combinations and soil status. In the Polish study, mixed cropping increased yield and effected pests in complex ways but the mechanisms behind this remains unclear.

Task 3.1c Crop rotations: Adding diversity to crop rotations have a positive impact on productivity according to a case study carried out in the UK. Levels of soil carbon were however lower in the diverse rotations although yields were higher, indicating a possible trade-off between productivity and long term soil carbon storage. It is likely that the low carbon to nitrogen ratio of the residue input in the diverse rotation, leads to faster nutrient mineralization resulting in greater carbon losses form the system as CO2. Results also indicate that increased crop diversity resulted in increased provision of nectar resources for pollinators. Moderate rotations provided more nectar resources early in the season (April and May), due to the inclusion of winter beans and diverse rotations provide more nectar resources in June. When exposed to environmental stresses (heat and drought), more diverse rotations are able to keep canopy temperatures lower which indicates a more resilient system. However, this did not translated into yield increases in the UK study. Pest incidence increased when plots were stressed but rotation had no effect on pest incidence. In Poland, effects of rotations on production and other ecosystem services were investigated in short and long term trials and more diverse rotations were found to increased yield. However a link between this increase and the biodiversity-derived ecosystem services measured could not be established.
An analysis of yield data from a long-term (>50 yrs) experiment comparing farming systems has been carried out. Effects of three conventional cropping systems (‘crop-livestock’, ‘specialized’, and ‘diverse’) on yield levels and stability of winter and spring wheat have been investigated. For winter wheat, the ‘diverse’ and ‘crop-livestock’ enhanced yields by 15% compared to the ‘specialized’ system. For spring wheat, the ‘crop-livestock’ tended to show higher yield than the ‘diverse’. A stability analysis showed that in winter wheat the three systems lead to equally stable yields in the face of year-to-year variability. For spring wheat, the ‘crop-livestock’ performed better in favourable years relative to the other systems. Overall, the results revealed that for winter wheat cultivation, diverse cropping provides an alternative to crop-livestock in the context of specialized farming where crop and livestock are separated. For spring wheat, the traditional crop-livestock system provided greater benefits. Diverse cropping systems enhance but does not always stabilize yield in conventional agriculture.

Task 3.2. Assess the effectiveness of both existing and newly created off-field management practices for promoting ecosystem services.

In this task the effectiveness of three different types of off-field mitigation were investigated including hedgerows, set-aside fields and flower margins. The empirical work carried out across different European countries provides original data on the effectiveness of these interventions on the delivery of multiple ecosystem services in winter cereals.

Task 3.2a Hedgerows: Hedgerows were found to improve the provisioning of multiple ecosystems services. In Italy, a complex hedgerow network in the landscape enhanced the provision of aphid parasitism and potential pollination. Increasing field margin complexity (i.e. increased flower diversity and structural heterogeneity) did not enhance ecosystem service delivery but hedgerow type was found to affect plants, butterflies and tachinids in the Italian field sites. In the UK, hedgerows are an important source of natural enemies which spill over into neighbouring fields. Hedgerows were also found to be a key forage resource for pollinators and this was dependent on the quality of hedgerows. Hedges with few gaps and a greater diversity of woody plant species supported more bumblebees than poor quality hedgerows. In the UK and Italy, landscape context moderated the benefits of hedgerows, i.e. pollination, wild bee abundance and biocontrol on hedgerows was greatest in landscapes with low cover of semi-natural habitats.

Task 3.2b Set-aside and flower strips: A number of studies were implemented to test effects on biocontrol and pollination of flower strips established next to crop fields. In wheat fields, both aphid abundance and biocontrol potential were primarily (and significantly) affected by soil factors such as soil organic carbon levels. An effect of wildflower strips on either aphid abundance or biocontrol was not observed. Flower strips established next to blueberry plantations were utilised by a greater abundance and diversity of pollinators when compared to control strips, so they clearly provide a valuable resource for crop pollinators. The impact of flower margins on Drosophila suzukii, an important crop fruit pests was also assessed in blueberry fields. It was found that populations of this pests and its key natural enemies, parasitoid wasps, were driven by local landscape factors with greater abundance found with increasing forest cover within a 1 km areas. This research shows flower strips have a role to play providing forage resources to pollinators but if biocontrol effects are to be felt within the crop field then the floral diversity and richness of these flower strips needs to be ensured. For many pests and natural enemies however, larger scale factors acting at the landscape level dictate their abundance and impact on crops. In Hungary, a field trial to test effects of newly-established set-aside fields on wheat production and ecosystem services revealed that increasing the proportion of semi-natural habitats (mostly set-asides and semi-natural grasslands) in the landscape mitigated the negative effect of pathogen fungi as leaf spots, and the abundance of pests such as grain aphids in winter-wheat fields adjacent to set-asides was reduced.

Task 3.3 Understanding effects on ecosystem services of combinations of on- and off-field mitigation options

An overview on managing ecosystem services to support crop production or ‘Ecological Intensification’ has been published. The paper discusses the question of how we can meet the rising demand for agricultural products, while at the same time avoiding large-scale environmental degradation and underpins Task 3.3. Following this a research synthesis (SLU) on how efficient on- and off-field interventions are for promoting ecosystems services in agriculture was carried out, firstly looking at effects singularly and then in combination. Preliminary results indicate that measures that lead to a diversification of agriculture increases efficiency of resource capture and reducing non-target exposure to toxins. Diversified crop production emerges as a general strategy for ecological intensification and shows promise as a tool to reduce the reliance on external inputs of agro-chemicals including mineral nutrients for crop production.
Regarding effects of combined on- and off-field management on the provisioning of ecosystem services, an additional literature review and analysis has found that for most cases, habitat diversity at the landscape scale is an efficient management option to enhance service delivery including pollination and pest regulation. However, there are also some cases where local management was the most effective measure as compared with landscape scale diversity. It remains to be explored under which environmental and ecological conditions local and landscape level management has the highest or interactive impacts on ecosystem services and which ecological processes are responsible across biogeographical regions and crop species.


Task 4.1 Develop a landscape model that relates crop yield to flows of multiple ecosystem services as influenced by landscape structure
The delivery of ecosystem services to crops by mobile organisms depends on a complex suite of processes that play out in time and space. The spatial arrangement of crop and non-crop habitats, the efficacy of particular species in predating on pests or pollinating crop flowers, their resource requirements and ability to disperse into the crop all play a critical role. Predictions from correlative statistical models play a central role in linking land-use and ecosystem services, but are limited in their predictive ability beyond the empirically studied conditions. In WP 4, we therefore developed mechanistic, spatially-explicit models that can be combined with digital land/crop cover data to evaluate alternative land use options and help finding optimal solutions. These models are based on our understanding of the ecology of the species involved, and informed by data at different levels through different parametrization and validation procedures.
We produced models for two aphid-crop pairs, spring barley with the bird cherry-oat aphid, and winter wheat with the grain aphid. For the bird-cherry-oat aphid, we used a process-based mechanistic landscape model predicting biological control of a cereal aphid species and yield losses attributable to these pests, and tested it with empirical data from Sweden. The model predicted that biological control would reduce crop damage by 45–70% and that the biological control effect would be higher in complex landscapes. The validation with independent data was satisfactory, but we also identified opportunities for refinements of the mechanistic understanding of predator dynamics and accounting for variation in aphid colonization. For another aphid species, the grain aphid that is dominant in winter cereals, we developed a structured equation model for linking landscape composition and the presence of wildflower strips to population development over different stages of the growing season, with parameters estimated for the different regions. Parameters suggest contrasting roles of non-crop habitats, that serve as overwintering habitats for both the grain aphid and the natural enemies, and that these effects also vary between regions in Europe. We have also further developed a published model for biological control of the rape pollen beetle, an important pest in oilseed rape. That can be used in conjunction with the pollination model (see below) to assess landscape effects on multiple ecosystem services to a single crop.
For pollination, we improved a well-known existing model to generate more realistic foraging patterns, either rooted in foraging theory adapted to bees or based on a weighing of the dispersal kernels of the pollinators by forage quality. We also developed a population growth module that considers the effect of increasing flower resources on populations of pollinators in following years. The modelling has focussed primarily on bumblebees and early-active solitary bees, both of which are important for the pollination of oilseed rape.
Currently the models developed can be applied on relatively large spatial scales and high resolution (applied to a region of ca. 120 x 120 km, at 25 m resolution), using IACS-LPIS and non-agricultural land-use data (e.g. CORINE).
Besides models for mobile beneficial insects and the services they deliver, we developed a method for valuing supporting soil ecosystem services and associated soil natural capital in agriculture. We used the relationship between relative changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) and changes in maximum yield and fertilizer-use efficiency in the future. The inferred depreciation of soil natural capital of a 1% relative reduction in SOC ranged from 7 to 431 € ha-1 depending on the site, current SOC concentration and choice of discount rate (1.4 to 7%). Furthermore, the results show that soil ecosystem services cannot be fully replaced by purchased inputs, they are imperfect substitutes.

Task 4.2 Calibrate the landscape model to each of the case-study landscapes and map flows of ecosystem services and agricultural yields
Calibration of the landscape model to each case-study landscape was made in several of the modules of the model. First, the land-use module was calibrated by identifying each case-study specific key to transform region specific land-use information to the land-use information in the ecological models for which the parameters are defined. Since the original modelling framework originated from Sweden, this step effectively mean that the land-use information in each region was translated to the land-use classes in Sweden, with the addition of new classes when needed. Relevant ecological information associated to each land-use class was collected in a look-up table.
The second step was to make sure that the ecological models are making realistic predictions. This was achieved by selecting parameter values such that there was a good match between data patterns and model outputs, more or less accounting for uncertainty. This was made for different sub-models separately.
The third step was to benchmark the predictions by the landscape-based ecological production functions for the purpose to predict within reasonable limits. This is made by setting specific parameters (without violating the previous calibrations) until the output is within a range that makes sense for the intended study. This is, for example, done when it is assumed that the normal yield in the NUTS2 region corresponds to a pollination effect of 50%.

Task 4.3 Analyse trade-offs between multiple ecosystem services under eco-functional agriculture
Using an integrated modelling framework we assess the efficiency of contrasting ecological intensification strategies at the landscape level (setting aside land for flower strips vs. adding ley into crop rotations at the whole field scale), to quantify the trade-offs and find optimal solutions. We show that there is considerable variation between European case-study regions, and between landscapes, in which combinations of interventions are most (technically) efficient. While we had expected that flowerstrip-based solutions would be systematically best for pollination services, we found that there are landscapes where combinations of ley and flower strips were more efficient. At present, the consideration of soil services and their potential to contribute to long-term yields in addition to pollination services does not greatly change conclusions as to which solutions are most efficient. The reason is the strong costs in overall production as ley replaces arable crops and the low average efficiency of ley-based solutions in increasing pollination.
In the second part of this task, we assessed the differences in response to landscape heterogeneity by organisms that forage from a central place, such as a nest, as is the case for bees modelled in Task 4.1, and non-central place foragers such as hoverflies, which can also be important for crop pollination and biological control. To do this we developed a model for non-central place foragers that takes into account the use of both foraging and breeding habitat. Both models give predictions that fit patterns of landscape use reported in the literature. Bees can only reach parts of crop fields that are within their flight range from nesting habitats – typically semi-natural habitats. Hoverflies are highly dispersive, and are less sensitive to the spatial arrangements of such habitats on a local scale, but some species still depend on them at larger spatial scales.

Task 5.1: Examine effects of eco-functional intensification on farmers’ profits
We developed an ecological-economic optimization that considers the impacts of farmers’ land-use decisions on flows of above- and below-ground ecosystem services, and the concomitant impacts on production and incomes for seven pan-European landscapes. We found that ecological intensification has the potential to boost future agricultural productivity while reducing environmental degradation, but it will involve substantial short-term costs to farmers to achieve higher levels of services in the future. Further the costs and benefits of ecological intensification were found to vary considerably across our landscapes. Consequently, the time lag between implementing measures to benefit biodiversity and realizing higher flows of ecosystem services, as well as the current policy focus on the farm scale rather than landscape characteristics, is likely to hinder ecological intensification under the current Common Agricultural Policy framework.

Task 5.2: Analyse income volatility over time in relation to biodiversity and ecosystem services
We showed that farmers feel comfortable about cultivating an average of three crops within the same growing period. Furthermore, most agreed with implementing seven different management practices simultaneously. In terms of risk attitudes, farmers perceived options with high levels of income volatility as extremely risky. Accordingly, their willingness to invest into management practices or crops decreased with increasing income volatility, i.e. they preferred options with low income and low variability, over those with a chance of higher income but also a high variability. Furthermore, the return-risk ratio (calculated as mean yield divided by its standard deviation) of wheat fields with fertilizer was better than the ratio of those without fertilizer. For soil organic carbon, risk-adjusted performance on fields with higher carbon content was mostly better than on fields with lower carbon content. Little differences were observed when contrasting fields with and without pesticide use, where the return-risk ratios showed almost identical values. Although the general risk-adjusted performance of wheat yields tends to be better on fertilized fields, their lead over unfertilized fields decreases with increasing soil organic carbon content.
Farmers showed a clear risk aversion when it comes to the decisions that affect their agricultural yield. If this yield variability was to be reduced by relying on ecosystem services, measures should primarily aim at services that benefit soil fertility. Especially in conjunction with higher soil organic carbon content, as brought about by higher belowground biodiversity, they tend to have the largest impact on return-risk ratios. Pest control, on the other hand, does not seem to have an effect on return-risk ratios. These results emphasize the importance of considering risk-adjusted performance indices, as they can reveal crucial arguments for the adoption of agricultural policies that aim to foster the active management of ecosystem services in agricultural business decisions.

Task 5.3: Survey farmers’ perspectives and attitudes towards mobilization of on-farm ecosystem services
Interviews with a number of farmers across Europe found that farmers’ business objectives are focused on profit, business growth and at product level, yields, put simply productivity. Moving beyond these business objectives, however, there is evidence of wider considerations, related to lifestyle, status, and legacy, leaving the land in good condition for future generations. Focusing explicitly on environmental management it is evident from the interviews that there is a reasonable understanding in the European farming community of the relationship between land use and management and its impact on the environment, and in turn the impact of the environment on productivity. However, for productive agricultural activity there is continued reliance on conventional management practices, such as the use of agrochemicals, crop rotation and cultivations, with the management of the wider environment perhaps seen as of lesser importance. Of greatest concern to farmers is the appropriate management of soil, specifically soil fertility, as a productive asset provided by the natural environment. Water availability and pollination are also seen as important. These are perhaps areas perceived as less easily managed by man. Weed, pest and disease management are of less concern, perhaps because it is felt that these can more easily be managed, and have been adequately managed, through mechanical and chemical means. What this suggests is that what is needed from a policy perspective, is a need for awareness creation and education. There is a good understanding in the farming community of the benefits of a healthy environment which does not necessarily translate into agricultural practice.


Task 6.1 Evaluate the potential of eco-functional intensification under different future land-use scenarios.
The potential of intensifying ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes have been evaluated by model-based approaches, combining different sets of interventions included in agricultural policy and impacts of different environmental and social endpoints. By analysing impacts on environmental and societal objectives from combinations of interventions of ecological intensification in realistic agricultural landscapes in seven pan-European regions, we found that there is a potential for synergistic effects from ecological intensification. The impacts of ecological intensification are dependent on the structural composition of semi-natural habitats but also on the sizes and distribution of crop fields in demand of ecosystem services, the economic value of changes in crop yields or loss of area for crop production (which is region specific) and what need there is for enhanced ecosystem services. We show synergistic effects in the impacts from ecological intensification when farmers cooperate in where and when to create or improve habitats to enhance pollination in flowering crops or biocontrol in cereals.

Task 6.2: Interactions between greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural ecosystem services
Agricultural ecosystems may provide a wide variety of provisioning, regulating and supporting services that impact agronomic yield and thus farm income as well as food security. Choice of management practices will impact the provision of many of these services. Reduced tillage, cover cropping and crop rotation are examples of ecological management practices, that (via aboveground and/or belowground biodiversity) may enhance particular services like biocontrol, water regulation and soil fertility. However, the same ecosystem state may provide both services and disservices, resulting in trade-offs that should be considered when selecting ecological management practices. Agro-ecosystems play an important role in global fluxes of greenhouse gasses and depending on management conditions, this role may be seen as an ecosystem service (mitigating climate change by e.g. carbon sequestration) or a disservice (enhanced emissions).
In this report, we provide a synthesis of current knowledge on the effects of implementation of no tillage, cover crops and cereal-pulse crop rotations, on greenhouse gas emissions.
We summarize available literature reviews on this topic, and performed two additional meta-analyses with respect to the effect of no tillage and crop rotation on N2O emissions (De Groot et al. in prep.). Recent reviews of the literature on cover crops indicated that the use of cover crops will generally help to reduce the net CO2 emission associated with crop production by increasing soil carbon stocks, but may simultaneously result in a clear increase in N2O emissions in case a legume species is used. A meta-analysis based on 223 comparisons of N2O emissions under non-tilled and tilled systems, confirmed previous findings that the effect of tillage depends strongly on treatment duration. No tillage practice will commonly result in enhanced emissions compared to a conventional (moldboard) tillage practices in the first years after being adopted, while emissions are reduced over time, resulting in clearly lower emissions compared to tilled systems under long-term implementation (>10 years). Contrary to previous reviews based on smaller datasets, these patterns seemed consistent both in arid and humid climates. Previous reviews showed similar patterns with respect to carbon sequestration, which under arid conditions seems only relevant after >20 years of continuous implementation. With respect to the role of crop rotations, we performed a meta-analysis of the effect of changing a continuous cereal monoculture into a cereal-pulse rotation system, and observed significantly reduced N2O emissions in the rotation scenario. This negative effect thus seems to be largely driven by a reduced fertilization level during the growth period of the pulse, and generally seems not to be counteracted by the release of nitrogen from the pulse residues later on. The effect of (pulse) crop rotation on carbon sequestration is still to be evaluated.
Our results show that effects of common ecological management practices on greenhouse gasses are strongly dependent on the exact conditions, and thus on practical decisions to be made by the farmer. Depending on the way and duration of implementation, either a synergy or trade-off with other services will exist.

Task 6.3: Report on management and policy recommendations on appropriate rates and quality of semi-natural habitats and on farm management
How can we reconcile the production of enough food to meet the demands from a growing world population with the protection of our environment? We have made good progress towards meeting the demand for food. Since the 1960’s the world population increased with 1.7% annually but over the same time period global food production increased with 2.3% per year. However, we have achieved this through intensive farming methods which damage the environment and threaten wildlife and rely on cheap non-renewable inputs such as fossil fuel and phosphates which are rapidly being depleted. Furthermore, the yields of many crops are currently no longer increasing by means of conventional management practices. We need to find new and sustainable solutions that feed the world and protect the environment. Ecological intensification of agriculture can help with that. Simply put, ecological intensification uses natural processes, or ecosystem services, to produce more crop with less inputs. All agricultural systems rely on wild species to pollinate crops, keep pests at bay and maintain healthy soils.
There is increasing evidence that ecological intensification works on farms. Management that enhances wild flowers on farms can increase crop yield or reduce the need to spray pesticides. This is because wild flowers promote crop pollinators, such as wild bees, and natural enemies of pests such as wasps and hover flies. The average contribution of wild bees to fruit and seed crop production has been estimated to be €3,000 per ha. Reducing soil tillage, for example, by not ploughing the land before planting of each crop, saves fuel, reduces soil erosion, increases water availability to the crop and improves pest control. Growing cover crops can increase soil biodiversity, prevent nutrients leaching into the groundwater, store greenhouse gasses in the soil and enhance crop yield.
However, farm management simultaneously affects many of the different services provided by nature and management that enhances one may reduce the other. We are only just starting to understand and being able to predict the impact of farmers’ activities on all these services and processes. Also, while some of these services will have direct benefits to farmer livelihoods, others mainly benefit wider society by safeguarding water quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting wildlife. It is not yet clear who should pay for management to enhance which service provided by nature; the farmer, the consumer or society at large? Ecological intensification is a promising approach and evidence is starting to emerge on how to adapt current farming systems and design new ones that will sustainably deliver food and environmental protection. While more research is needed on how much management should be implemented where and when, for some management practices we have enough information to be confident that they will provide a net benefit. A good example is enhancing flower abundance and richness of semi-natural habitats that are currently already present on farmland in the form of road-side verges, ditch banks and hedges which are currently often poor in flowers. The planting of cover crops between two cash crops is another. Farmers are willing to take risks when exploring new avenues, but they need help in order to find the best directions for producing food without impacting the environment negatively. This can best be done by letting other farmers show farmers how effective nature-based solutions can efficiently be implemented on farms and how it helps them make a living for themselves and a good life for everyone.


Task 7.1: Establish a general communication and dissemination strategy
Liberation developed a project website (, a project logo, an introductory leaflet and a first newsletter. Furthermore, in collaboration with FAO and UREAD, a general communication and dissemination strategy was developed (Getz et al. unpublished report) focusing on the three key elements of “raising awareness, deepening understanding and stimulating action” on the local, subnational, national and regional levels. The dissemination strategy was shared with partners at the annual meeting in Hungary and partners’ feedback was taken into account into subsequent actions. A number of online dissemination activities were also carried out during the live time of the project. The key dissemination activities were:
(1) An e-series of articles on ecological intensification (“Harvesting the Research”) was set up in collaboration with Food Tank – the Food Think Tank, based on interviews with selected researchers from LIBERATION, and aimed at translating their research into a format more accessible to the general public. A total of seven articles were published.
(2) An e-discussion was held from 30/11 to 31/12/2015 on the FAO FSN forum platform ( to look into several aspects of relevance to the debate on ecological intensification in the EU. Proceedings of the discussion, including all 36 contributions received were prepared and are available online.
(3) An opinion editorial was prepared, in collaboration with Food Tank, and published online on the “Food Policy and Health” section of The op-ed focuses on the ecosystem services offered by soils, their links to climate change and the importance of appropriate soil management practices.
(4) Presentations on themes of relevance to LIBERATION and ecological intensification were delivered at a number of international venues, including The American Chemical Society National Meeting, the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition, held at FAO HQ, Rome; a workshop in Brisbane sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
(5) Four videos were produced and published online. They give an overview on different types of agro-ecological, integrated crop production systems in Indonesia, the Netherlands and Brazil; and describe the experiences of farmers in Argentina.

Task 7.2a: Develop a community of practice on eco-functional intensification
Liberation, in collaboration with, the Partnership for Agrobiodiversity Research, developed an internet platform for a community of practice discussion on topics related to LIBERATION ( and facilitated four discussions on the concept of intensification; application of intensification, sustainable vs. ecological vs. eco-functional intensification, and the benefits of ecological intensification, over the period 31/03 to 20/06/2014. To enlist and support inputs from the community of practice, a glossary and annotated bibliography related to LIBERATION and ecological intensification were produced taking into account not only sector specific themes (e.g. pest management; soil fertility) but also broader concepts of ecological management of farm systems (FAO 2013).

Task 7.2b: Identify the policy linkages between farmers practicing ecological intensification and local and regional governments
Three case study of successful policy options that have been applied within Europe to support ecological intensification were identified: Malmö (Sweden), where efforts focused on increasing the sustainability of the city’s food sourcing from the surrounding agricultural; Hoeksche Waard (the Netherlands), where a regional biodiversity action plan was developed in a participatory manner by local residents; and Milano and surroundings (Italy), where local authorities brought together efforts towards the conservation of agricultural, natural and cultural heritage with policies that look at food systems (including the city’s first urban food policy). A report/policy brief (Getz et al. 2014) was prepared based on the findings from information gathering missions with a policy expert consultant at the case-study sites, and on further discussion, document on policy measures or tool and project findings, for decision makers.
A policy paper was also prepared in collaboration with a number of consultants and FAO staff, with a focus on best measures to facilitate the substitution of external inputs for ecosystem services – with particular reference to the EU (policy entry points in the current CAP) and its individual member states that have set in place measures in this regards at sub-national levels (e.g. regional, city).
Finally, a policy brief was prepared to highlight key concepts behind ecological intensification and sum up key results from project LIBERATION, particularly with respect to their policy implications and relevance for policymakers. The policy brief was distributed at a side event to the FAO Agroecology meeting for Europe and Central Asia on LIBERATION/ecological intensification, in November 2016.

Task 7.3: Training and sharing of skills to improve exchange of ideas - Foster close cooperation of the work package teams and promote a general overview on the project
A skills-sharing meeting involving all LIBERATION partners was organized in Poznan, Poland on 21-24 October 2014 – in collaboration with PULS and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The meeting was aimed at developing a common language and messaging strategy – specifically to target farmers, young scientists, policymakers and agribusinesses – at building partners capacity to influence policies as well as at providing training on the design of demonstration sites. The latter outcome was facilitated by a hands-on field visit. Fourteen participants from all LIBERATION partner institutions took part to the meeting,

Task 7.3b Training and sharing of skills to improve exchange of ideas - Build capacity amongst early career professionals and policy makers to address and support eco-functional intensification
On 24 November 2016, FAO with the support of PULS and WU, organized an international stakeholders event in Budapest, Hungary, as a side event to the FAO Regional Symposium on “Agroecology for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems for Europe and Central Asia”. The event gave the opportunity to present project LIBERATION and highlight key research results. The audience attending the FAO event represented a broad range of sectors and included high-profile people, such as the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and the Director General of FAO, as well as researchers, farmers, civil society organizations (CSOs) and development practitioners.

Task 7.4: Demonstrating best combinations of management options
Between 2015 and 2016, eight LIBERATION partners across seven countries – England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden – set up demonstration sites to carry out dissemination activities on ecosystem-based, biodiversity-enhancing practices for agricultural production and farm management relevant to farming landscapes in Europe. A total of 29 activities were carried out in total by the partners involved. Overall, approximately 2400 people have visited the demonstration sites organized by LIBERATION partners; over 520 people took part in the activities, which ranged from field visits and demonstration experiments, to oral presentations, focus groups and participatory discussions on the topics of ecological intensification, ecosystem services and how they can be enhanced by agricultural practices. Participation included members of NGOs, farmers’ association, academia, the public sector and farmers. Liberation summarized individual partners’ experiences and key lessons learned from the demonstration sites (Colozza et al. 2016).
A guidance document on setting up on-farm demonstration sites for practices that support organisms that provide ecosystem services was produced in collaboration with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the American Samoa Community College (Ullman et al. in prep.). The manual is intended to outline a model educational approach designed to increase the adoption of on-farm practices that support the organisms that provide ecosystem services. It is intended to be used by researchers and farm educators, including governmental agency staff, agricultural extension agents, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The document has been finalized and laid out and is currently at the final stages of internal FAO clearing procedures.
Potential Impact:
Main dissemination activities and exploitation of results

During the lifetime of LIBERATION, information related to the project and its outcomes were widely popularized using a wide range of communication and dissemination approaches.

LIBERATION logo: designing the LIBERATION logo was one of the first steps taken. It introduced the project and helped the external audience to easily identify it.

Website: – launched at the very beginning of the project. It was designed in a way to make it user-friendly and attractive to the different target groups. The website has two distinct areas: i) public website area containing general information about the project and its development, accessible to anyone and ii) a password-protected website area which supported the smooth workflow between project partners and listed datasets, presentations from AGMs and manuscripts that were in preparation by the different partners. The LIBERATION website ( activity was monitored from June 2013 to January 2017. In total the site had 30,327 total visits from 23,307 unique visitors. The bounce rate was 73,73%, on average there were 1,87 pages viewed per session and a session lasted 1:19 minutes, resulting in a total of 56,668 page views. The LIBERATION website has been visited by people from 142 different countries, most visits coming from the United States and, within Europe, from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands:

LIBERATION outreach materials were used to announce the project and provide relevant information to the diverse stakeholders. LIBERATION produced amongst others:
• An introductory leaflet ( );
• A LIBERATION newsletter ( );
• Policy Entry Points for Enabling Ecological Intensification and the EU Common Agriculture Policy ( The purpose of this document is to look at policy entry points for ecological intensification in the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and other policies instruments at the national (Member States) and sub-national levels. The document explores also relevant challenges and barriers to building supporting policies for ecological intensification, and outlines a number of recommendations for those stakeholders that are its target audience – LIBERATION partner organizations, farmers and farming communities, policymakers working within the CAP and the private sector.
• A video on “Agroecology – farmers’ perspectives” was produced in collaboration with external partners to give an overview on different types of integrated crop production systems in Indonesia, the Netherlands and Brazil. The video is available on FAO’s You Tube channel at:
• Four videos on agro-ecology and ecological intensification published online ( which describe the experiences of farmers in Argentina.
• Twenty-nine demonstration activities, attended by approximately 2400 people in 2015 and 2016. Eight LIBERATION partners across seven countries – England, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden – were involved in setting up and carrying out dissemination activities on ecosystem-based, biodiversity-enhancing practices for agricultural production and farm management relevant to farming landscapes in Europe. Participation included members of NGOs – including farmers’ associations and societies dealing with specific aspects of sustainability in agriculture – of the academic world, the public sector – including government agencies and boards involved in agricultural issues – and farmers. Of this last category, reportedly 144 implemented one or more of the practices demonstrated, and 51 implemented other ecologically-enhancing practices on their land.
• An internet platform for a community of practice discussion on topics related to LIBERATION ( The platform facilitated four discussions on the concept of ecological intensification.
• A number of targeted online dissemination activities were carried out:
o ‘Harvesting the Research’ - an series of e-articles on ecological intensification based on interviews with selected researchers from LIBERATION, and aimed at translating their research into a format more accessible to the general public. A total of seven articles were published (
o An e-discussion was held from 30/11/2015 to 31/12/2015 on the FAO FSN forum platform ( to look into several aspects of relevance to the debate on ecological intensification in the EU.
o An opinion editorial was prepared, in collaboration with Food Tank, and published online on the “Food Policy and Health” section of The op-ed focuses on the ecosystem services offered by soils, their links to climate change and the importance of appropriate soil management practices.
• A LIBERATION summary animation video (https://youtube/xZ0zw8knDqg). The video was produced and released to summarize the background and main results of the project in an easily accessible way.

Media presence: LIBERATION appeared in a variety of interviews and broadcast on TV and radio, as well as in regional and national print and web publications across Europe. The project has been featured in a number of documentary productions. For example “Redden we de juiste bij? [Are we saving the right bee?] ” ( on Dutch national television reached an audience of several hundred thousand households. More information is available in the list of dissemination activities.
Scientific (peer reviewed) publications – in total 24 scientific papers were published in leading journals in the spheres of Biodiversity and Ecology, Agriculture and Environment, amongst them several of the top scientific journals: Science, Nature Communications, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, Journal of Applied Ecology, Oecologia, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, etc. Twenty-one per cent of the papers (5) are published open access. Approximately 20 other manuscripts are in preparation, submitted, accepted or in press. Further information is available in the complete list of scientific publications on the website.
Training and sharing of skills: Together with the United States Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, LIBERATION organized a training course on setting up of on-farm demonstration sites for LIBERATION partners to help them better disseminate their research findings. A guidance document on setting up on-farm demonstration sites for practices that support organisms that provide ecosystem services was produced (Ullman et al. in prep.) which aims to outline a model educational approach designed to increase the adoption of on-farm practices that support the organisms that provide ecosystem services.

Communication and dissemination activities: ES Partnership meeting with EC attendance. IPBES. Good interaction with key stakeholders was achieved by LIBERATION partners’ participation in and organization of international and national conferences, workshops and meetings dealing with sensitive for the society issues such as the loss of farmland biodiversity, contribution to crop yield of functional biodiversity, managing farmland for ecosystem service delivery, etc. A side event was organized during the FAO Regional Symposium on “Agroecology for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems for Europe and Central Asia”. The side event presented the background and highlight key research results of LIBERATION. The meeting was attended by a broad range of sectors and included high-profile people, such as the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and the Director General of FAO, as well as researchers, farmers, civil society organizations (CSOs) and development practitioners. The LIBERATION framework and main conclusions were presented during the Societal Challenge 2’s Dissemination Event organized in Brussels in 2016 which was attended by approximately 200 policy makers and scientists. LIBERATION PI’s gave keynote talks at important meetings, for instance the presentation Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, UK in June 2016 and the presentation Bee Strategy – Interactions between agriculture and Nature during a workshop organized by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs in January 2017 and attended by key representatives of policy, industry, agriculture, conservation ngo’s and science. Other influential presentations include National Pollinator Strategy: Which species should we care about? at the UK Parliament in November 2015, the invited presentation Will ecological intensification of agriculture help to preserve biodiversity? at the OECD workshop in Brisbane, Australia in November 2014, the presentation Will ecological intensification simultaneously benefit yields and enhance biodiversity? During EXPO 2015 in Milan, Italy, in June 2015. LIBERATION organised the symposium Can managing ecosystem services give a win-win for biodiversity and food production? at the International Congress of Conservation Scientists at Montpellier, France in August 2015. Five LIBERATION PI’s presented a range of findings from the project and discussed results and conclusions with the approximately 100 attending scientists and conservationists. The LIBERATION coordinator was one of a selection of scientists interviewed by the Horizon magazine, the European Union’s Research and Innovation magazine, which major developments they would like to see in 2017 (Personalised cancer treatments and augmented reality communications on the cards for 2017). Proof that improving biodiversity makes farming more profitable was on top of his list as this will go a long way in convincing large numbers of farmers to adopt this type of management and will therefore contribute significantly to making farming more sustainable.

Finally LIBERATION was featured as success story on the EC Research and Innovation website in the article ‘Ecological intensification’ swaps pesticides for biodiversity’

Bommarco, R., Kleijn, D. & Potts, S.G. 2013. Ecological intensification: harnessing ecosystem services for food security. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28, 230-238.
IPBES (2016): Summary for policymakers of the assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on pollinators, pollination and food production. S.G. Potts, V. L. Imperatriz-Fonseca, H. T. Ngo, J. C. Biesmeijer, T. D. Breeze, L. V. Dicks, L. A. Garibaldi, R. Hill, J. Settele, A. J. Vanbergen, M. A. Aizen, S. A. Cunningham, C. Eardley, B. M. Freitas, N. Gallai, P. G. Kevan, A. Kovacs-Hostyanszki, P. K. Kwapong, J. Li, X. Li, D. J. Martins, G. Nates-Parra, J. S. Pettis, R. Rader, and B. F. Viana (eds.). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany. 36 pages.

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