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Comparing organic farming and land sparing: optimizing yield and butterfly populations at a landscape scale


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Ecology Letters (2010) 13: 1358–1367


Organic farming aims to be wildlife-friendly, but it may not benefit wildlife overall if much greater areas are needed to produce a given quantity of food. We measured the density and species richness of butterflies on organic farms, conventional farms and grassland nature reserves in 16 landscapes. Organic farms supported a higher density of butterflies than conventional farms, but a lower density than reserves. Using our data, we predict the optimal land-use strategy to maintain yield whilst maximizing butterfly abundance under different scenarios. Farming conventionally and sparing land as nature reserves is better for butterflies when the organic yield per hectare falls below 87% of conventional yield. However, if the spared land is simply extra field margins, organic farming is optimal whenever organic yields are over 35% of conventional yields. The optimal balance of land sparing and wildlife-friendly farming to maintain production and biodiversity will differ between landscapes.