Scale matters: the impact of organic farming on biodiversity at different spatial scales


Correspondence and present address: Department of Botany, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland. E-mail:


Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 858–869


There is increasing recognition that ecosystems and their services need to be managed in the face of environmental change. However, there is little consensus as to the optimum scale for management. This is particularly acute in the agricultural environment given the level of public investment in agri-environment schemes (AES). Using a novel multiscale hierarchical sampling design, we assess the effect of land use at multiple spatial scales (from location-within-field to regions) on farmland biodiversity. We show that on-farm biodiversity components depend on farming practices (organic vs. conventional) at farm and landscape scales, but this strongly interacts with fine- and coarse-scale variables. Different taxa respond to agricultural practice at different spatial scales and often at multiple spatial scales. Hence, AES need to target multiple spatial scales to maximize effectiveness. Novel policy levers may be needed to encourage multiple land managers within a landscape to adopt schemes that create landscape-level benefits.