Posts Tagged: Claire Kremen
Berkeley — With a body the size of a fist and wings that span more than a foot, the big brown bat must gorge on 6,000 to 8,000 bugs a night to maintain its stature. This mighty appetite can be a boon to farmers battling crop-eating pests.
But few types of bats live on American farms. That's because the current practice of monoculture – dedicating large swathes of land to a single crop – doesn't give the bats many places to land or to nest.
Diversifying working lands – including farmland, rangeland and forests – may be key to preserving biodiversity in the face of climate change, says a new review paper published this week in Science by conservation biologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
Diversification could be as simple as adding trees or hedgerows along the edges of fields, giving animals like birds, bats and insects places to live, or as complex as incorporating a patchwork of fields, orchards, pasture and flowers into a single working farm.
These changes could extend the habitat of critters like bats, but also much larger creatures like bears, elk and other wildlife, outside the boundaries of parks and other protected areas, while creating more sustainable, and potentially more productive, working lands.
“Protected areas are extremely important, but we can't rely on those on their own to prevent the pending sixth mass extinction,” said study co-author Adina Merenlender, a UC Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “This is even more true in the face of climate change, because species will need to move around to adapt to shifts in temperature and climate.”
A win-win for wildlife and for farms
Maintaining even small pieces of the original landscape – even a single tree– can help conserve the original diversity of species, Merenlender said. Clearing oak woodlands and shrublands to establish large vineyards hits many native species hard. Animals that are well adapted to urban and agricultural areas, such as mockingbirds, house finches and free-tail bats, continue to flourish, while animals that are more sensitive to disturbance, like acorn woodpeckers, orange-crowned warblers and big brown bats, begin to drop away. “If you can leave shrubs, trees and flowering plants, the habitat suitability -- not just for sensitive birds but also for other vertebrates – goes way up,” Merenlender said. This is true not only in California's vineyards, but on working lands around the world.
Incorporating natural vegetation makes the farm more hospitable to more creatures, while reducing the use of environmentally degrading chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and man-made fertilizer.
The ideal farming landscape includes woodland pastures and vegetable plots bumping up against orchards and small fields, said Claire Kremen, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Integrating livestock produces manure which can fertilize the crops, while those same crops produce feed for livestock. Birds and bats provide pest control, and bees boost crop production by pollinating plants.
“It is possible for these working landscapes to support biodiversity but also be productive and profitable,” Kremen said. “And ultimately, this is where we have to go. We just can't keep mining our soils for their fertility and polluting our streams – in the end, this will diminish our capacity to continue producing the food that we need. Instead, we must pay attention to the species, from microbes to mammals, that supply us with critical services, like pollination, pest control and nutrient cycling”
“We have some amazing diversified farms, sustainably managed forests and species-rich rangelands here in California that exemplify working lands for conservation around the world,” Merenlender said. “We are calling for a scaling up of this approach around the world, and to do that we champion community-based action and more supportive polices” Kremen concludes.
Claire Kremen, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-367-2100 (cell)
Adina Merenlender, email@example.com, (707) 489-4362
Mark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times food writer, used the occasion of New Year’s Day to throw down the gauntlet for real and permanent change to the U.S. agricultural system. “We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system,” he says in a Times opinion column. He likens the scale of the task to tectonic cultural strides like abolition, civil rights, and the women’s vote.
UC Berkeley researchers have been working on some specifics for several years now, researching the agricultural, policy, and social practices that would make possible the type of systemic change Bittman is advocating. In a special multi-article feature devoted to "diversified farming systems," or DFS, for the December issue of the journal Ecology & Society, scientists from Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and other institutions lay out a comprehensive scientific case that biologically diversified agricultural practices can contribute substantially to food production while creating far fewer environmental harms than industrialized, conventional monoculture agriculture—that is, large swaths of land devoted to growing single crops using chemical inputs.
DFS are different from the narrow definition of organics, and the research shows that, unlike industrial agriculture, biologically diversified agriculture tends to generate and regenerate ecosystem services such as soil fertility, pest and disease control, water-use efficiency, and pollination, which provide critical inputs to agriculture. The research also found that DFS support globally important ecosystem services, including substantially greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy-use efficiency, and resilience to climate change.
But changing America’s agriculture system is more complex than just changing farming techniques, according to Alastair Iles, assistant professor of environmental science, policy, and management, and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems.
In one Ecology & Society article, Iles and co-author Robin Marsh, also of UC Berkeley, consider several obstacles that prevent or slow the spread of diversified farming practices, such as the broader political and economic context of industrialized agriculture, the erosion of farmer knowledge and capacity, and supply chain and marketing conditions that limit the ability of farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
“To transform agriculture, we need to understand these obstacles and develop and test solutions, such as peer-to-peer learning, recruitment and retention of new farmers through access to credit and land, and compensation for ecological services provided by ranchers, for example,” Iles says.
Other key facets of a sustainable agricultural system include attention to its social dimensions, such as human health, labor, democratic participation, resiliency, diversity, equality, and ethics, according to special issue co-editor Chris Bacon of Santa Clara University. In an article with colleagues, Bacon proposes creating partnerships with institutions that could address issues like immigration, food access, and worker health.
But first and foremost, the farms themselves have to produce enough to remain profitable and to feed a growing population. Conservation biologist Claire Kremen, also a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of the Berkeley DFS Center with Iles, says that more work is needed to build on what is already known about biologically diversified agriculture, to make them these methods even more productive.
“To date, the amount of research and development investment in this type of agriculture is miniscule compared to what’s been invested in conventional agriculture,” Kremen said. “There may be substantial potential to increase food production from biologically diversified, sustainable agriculture that we have not yet tapped into. With research support to study and improve on sustainable farming systems, we can tap that potential. Growers want to utilize sustainable practices if they can, but they need to know it won’t hurt their bottom line.”
So, DFS scientists might argue, Bittman’s New Year’s manifesto, which ends with a call for “energy, action — and patience,” could be amended to include “a comprehensive scientific, political, and sociological approach, and putting dollars behind the right kinds of research.”
Read more about diversified farming systems research at UC Berkeley.