when “ordinary” nature does us a favor

During the year 2021, many demonstrations against the sealing of land took place in Île-de-France to defend, not unusual natural environments, but simple agricultural land, the surface of which is falling in our country, a little over 65,000 ha. Per year!

In addition to the need to preserve these areas for their agricultural production, these spaces, composed of so-called “ordinary” nature, could also provide ecosystem services to be taken into account in the ecological compensation mechanisms.

Ecosystem services were defined in the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment as the benefits that humanity derives from ecosystems. These include delivery services such as food and water supply, regulation such as flood and disease control, support such as nutrient cycling and finally cultural services for the image of recreational activities.

At the beginning of the XXIe century, the same evaluation showed that 60% of the ecosystem services studied are degraded or used in an unsustainable way, so it is necessary to take them into account in conservation measures in addition to rare habitats and species.

A little research on the subject

Although many research works conducted around the world have attempted to characterize and measure the ecosystem services in spaces that protect a biodiversity described as “extraordinary”, far less has been interested in the services provided by the places where nature flourishes. “common”: in other words, nature consisting of common species and habitats with low ecological complexity – this is the case for a very large proportion of conventionally cultivated agricultural land.

This “ordinary” agricultural nature is nevertheless very much threatened by environmental changes caused by, for example, the expansion of urbanized areas. While it could, among other things, contribute to fixation of atmospheric carbon, filtration of water or control of soil erosion.

As part of a research project, we sought to find out which ecosystem services had already been identified in environments as common as intensively cultivated fields or artificial grasslands.

For this, we have conducted a study, published in the review in Agronomy for sustainable developmentof the International Scientific Bibliography, then made a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data extracted from the selected articles.

This work made it possible in 2019 to identify a total of 616 publications, of which only 189 were selected after reading all the texts.

Well-identified regulatory services

Our results show that in most cases several types of ecosystem services were discussed in the same article (this is the case for 73% of the articles), but it is the regulatory services that are most studied (in 85.7% of them). , followed by support (58.7%), tendering (55.6%) and finally cultural services, which receive the least attention (24.9%).

Types of ecosystem services (A) and ecosystem services (B) identified in agricultural areas of a general nature and mentioned in the articles of the consulted international scientific bibliography.
Modified after Dutoit and VidallerCC BY-NC-ND

This result is probably related to the fact that from this study we excluded the actual agricultural production benefits, such as yield measurement. It follows that the articles we consulted are mainly focused on services that could support and / or benefit farmers, such as pollination services (36.5%), pest control (48.1%) and nutrient circuits (49, 7%).

Carbon sequestration (46.6%) has often been measured, reflecting recent concerns about rising CO levels2 atmospheric. Finally, the supply of biodiversity (40.7%) was also assessed, including for conventional farming systems that are poor in habitats and biodiversity.

In fact, these do not allow the preservation of cultural services, such as tourism Vert because they are composed of artificial meadows, field crops, vines and Veintensive grass mv.

Finally, the main beneficiaries of the ecosystem services identified in the analyzed articles were farmers (95.2%), mainly through the services of soil formation, primary production and nutrient cycles.

Compensate for destruction of ordinary nature

The next challenge will be to quantitatively measure the ecosystem services provided by the general agricultural nature and to assess the trade-offs and synergies between these services, as well as any “disservices”, ie. negative functions for well-being, people.

In intensive agro-ecosystems, this can be erosion, loss of wildlife habitats, greenhouse gas emissions or pesticide pollution of humans and other species.

This research should help to better integrate common nature into conservation-recovery mechanisms and in particular to include them in avoid-reduce-compensate the sequence of impact assessments. To compensate for the loss of agricultural production, an ecological compensation should then be added for the lost benefits.

Failure to release agricultural land at the expense of natural spaces could thus be proposed to compensate for the destruction of spaces of ordinary agricultural nature by financing farmers to implement agro-ecological practices, such as simplified cultivation techniques or crops under cover. .

It has already been shown that less intensive agricultural systems (traditional, sensible, organic, etc.) provide more ecosystem services than conventional farming methods. This type of measure could then be a real incentive to accelerate the necessary ecological conversion of French agriculture.

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