Land-use strategies to balance livestock production, biodiversity conservation and carbon storage in Yucatán, Mexico

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Williams, D 

Balancing the production of food, particularly meat, with preserving biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem services is a major societal challenge. Research into the contrasting strategies of land sparing and land sharing has suggested that land sparing—combining high‐yield agriculture with the protection or restoration of natural habitats on nonfarmed land—will have lower environmental impacts than other strategies. Ecosystems with long histories of habitat disturbance, however, could be resilient to low‐yield agriculture and thus fare better under land sharing. Using a wider suite of species (birds, dung beetles and trees) and a wider range of livestock‐production systems than previous studies, we investigated the probable impacts of different land‐use strategies on biodiversity and aboveground carbon stocks in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico—a region with a long history of habitat disturbance. By modelling the production of multiple products from interdependent land uses, we found that land sparing would allow larger estimated populations of most species and larger carbon stocks to persist than would land sharing or any intermediate strategy. This result held across all agricultural production targets despite the history of disturbance and despite species richness in low‐ and medium‐yielding agriculture being not much lower than that in natural habitats. This highlights the importance, in evaluating the biodiversity impacts of land use, of measuring population densities of individual species, rather than simple species richness. The benefits of land sparing for both biodiversity and carbon storage suggest that safeguarding natural habitats for biodiversity protection and carbon storage alongside promoting areas of high‐yield cattle production would be desirable. However, delivering such landscapes will probably require the explicit linkage of livestock yield increases with habitat protection or restoration, as well as a deeper understanding of the long‐term sustainability of yields, and research into how other societal outcomes vary across land‐use strategies.

agroecosystems, beef production, birds, carbon stocks, cattle production, dung beetles, land sharing, land sparing, trees, tropical dry forest
Journal Title
Global Change Biology
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NERC (1122875)
Williams was supported by Natural Environment Research Council Grant 1122875; F. Alvarado was supported by scholarship from CONACyT (No 234341) and Rufford Small Grants Foundation (RSGF No 14030-1)