Accounting for ecosystem services variability and interrelations between and within management strategies matters to design effective agri-environmental schemes

Published on
October 9, 2019

Management affects the provision of five ecosystem services in Swiss grasslands. Extensive management leads to an overall high ecosystem services provision but environmental drivers provoke great variations of the provision between parcels under the same management. Trade-offs at the cantonal level become synergies within management strategies, due to the negative impact of elevation. Such findings give insights for effective agri-environmental policies.

Grasslands provide many ecosystem services but the impact of management on the ecosystem services provision is still uncertain due to the diversity of the spatial configurations of the parcels. We characterized the ecosystem services provision (level and variability) by Swiss permanent grasslands under various management strategies. To do this, we combined empirical ecosystem services data with 1) census data providing information on location and land use of 17,383 parcels, 2) data about topography and 3) data about landscape structure in the canton of Solothurn.

We analyzed the variations of five ecosystem services (forage production, climate regulation, pollination, biodiversity conservation and outdoor recreation), from a variety of data sources. These data were used to calculate the statistical distribution of each of the five ecosystem services indicators within each agricultural management strategy, considering the agricultural regime (pasture or meadow) and intensity (extensive, low intensity and intensive). We then extrapolated these data, implemented from the farm management data and the biophysical characteristics of the plots, to the 17,383 permanent grassland plots of our study area and identified the interrelationships between the five ecosystem services.

Our study highlights three main points:
1) Management strategies (regime and level of intensity) play an important role in the provision of ecosystem services. However, their influence depends on the considered ecosystem services. In general, extensive management, particularly in pastures, favors all ecosystem services, except for the provision of fodder. Conversely, intensive management favors the provision of fodder.
2) For the same farm management, the potential ecosystem services provision can vary from one parcel to another, due to the influence of environmental factors related to topography and landscape structure.
3) At the cantonal level, there is a trade-off between the provision of fodder and other ecosystem services. Nevertheless, within the same management strategy, two ecosystem services become synergistic, due to the negative impact of elevation on the two ecosystem services.

Our study has two major implications for policies dealing with the agricultural management of grasslands in European agriculture. First, considering the spatial variability of ecosystem services, related to the underlying environmental factors, would help optimizing the spatial configuration of the parcels within an area in relation to their management. Secondly, the various tradeoffs resulting from different management regimes and intensities imply that payments to promote biodiversity do not necessarily improve the provision of other ecosystem services. This makes it difficult to design agri-environmental measures that address multiple environmental objectives. In this context, agri-environmental measures evaluated on their actual results could provide more efficient and cost-effective incentives for ecosystem services provision in grasslands. Thus, the information provided by our study on spatial variability and trade-offs between ecosystem services can be considered as a basis for designing efficient and effective agri-environmental policies in European agriculture.

Reference to the paper

Solen Le Clec'h, Robert Finger, Nina Buchmann, Arjan S Gosal, Lukas Hörtnagl, Olivier Huguenin-Elie, Philippe Jeanneret, Lüscher Andreas, Manuel K Schneider, Robert Huber, 2019. Assessment of spatial variability of multiple ecosystem services in grasslands of different intensities. Journal of Environmental Management.