Should agricultural policies encourage land sparing or wildlife-friendly farming?



As the demands on agricultural lands to produce food, fuel, and fiber continue to expand, effective strategies are urgently needed to balance biodiversity conservation and agricultural production. “Land sparing” and “wildlife-friendly farming” have been proposed as seemingly opposing strategies to achieve this balance. In land sparing, homogeneous areas of farmland are managed to maximize yields, while separate reserves target biodiversity conservation. Wildlife-friendly farming, in contrast, integrates conservation and production within more heterogeneous landscapes. Different scientific traditions underpin the two approaches. Land sparing is associated with an island model of modified landscapes, where islands of nature are seen as separate from human activities. This simple dichotomy makes land sparing easily compatible with optimization methods that attempt to allocate land uses in the most efficient way. In contrast, wildlife-friendly farming emphasizes heterogeneity, resilience, and ecological interactions between farmed and unfarmed areas. Both social and biophysical factors influence which approach is feasible or appropriate in a given landscape. Drawing upon the strengths of each approach, we outline broad policy guidelines for conservation in agricultural landscapes.