It is essential to conserve biological diversity to maintain the life-support system that nature provides and the living resources essential for ecologically sustainable development. Within agriculture, biodiversity is fundamental for soil health, which, is in turn, linked to food quality and quantity. Preserving and boosting biodiversity is imperative to enhancing soil health and ensuring a sustainable, regenerative and productive food system, which will support rural livelihoods and a healthy environment.
The sheer diversity of life is impossible to put a value on. Biodiversity provides a foundation for the continued existence of a healthy planet and our own well-being.
Ecosystems rich in diversity are more resilient and are therefore better able to withstand and recover more readily from stresses such as climatic extremes, human impacts and degradation. When ecosystems are diverse, there are a range of pathways for primary production and ecological processes such as nutrient cycling, so that if one is damaged or destroyed, an alternative pathway can be used and the ecosystem can continue functioning at its normal level. If biological diversity is greatly diminished, the functioning of ecosystems is put at risk.
Spiders assist with control of pest insects
Diverse natural habitats provide sanctuary for marsupials, birds, beneficial insects and other predators. Birds and insects help control insect pests in agricultural areas, thus reducing the need for, and cost of artificial control measures. Birds and nectar-loving insects roost and breed in natural habitats and pollinate crops and native flora in surrounding areas. Digging marsupials have an important role to play in turning over soil, and also potentially reduce bush fire risk.
Within healthy soil, diverse soil organisms perform numerous vital functions in the soil ecosystem which have direct interactions with the biological, atmospheric and hydrological systems. They are responsible for nutrient cycling, regulating the dynamics of soil organic matter, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions, modifying soil physical structure and water regimes, controlling plant disease and enhancing plant health, among others.
Soil protection by maintenance of biological diversity can preserve the productive capacity of the soil, prevent landslides, safeguard coastlines and riverbanks, and prevent the degradation of coral reefs and riverine and coastal fisheries by siltation. Diverse vegetation cover, particularly perennial plants, minimises weed infestation.
Wild plant, animal and microorganism resources are also of great importance in the search for new medically active compounds, and the potential of other Australian biota to contribute to modern medicine has scarcely begun to be realised. Many of the drugs presently used are derived from plants; many medicines, in particular antibiotics, are derived from microorganisms, and new chemical structures are being discovered all the time.
We also should not forget the aesthetic value of our natural ecosystems and landscapes which contribute to the emotional and spiritual well-being of a highly urbanised population.
Insect attack of crops and pastures can be controlled by having more insects...
Insecticides are not selective, they also kill predators like spiders and wasps that will control insects naturally - insecticides will ultimately lead to more insects and more insecticides.
Agricultural practices, for example, clearing wooded land or grassland for cultivation or the overuse/mis-use of agro-chemicals drastically reduces biodiversity above and below the ground.
Adopting an ecosystem approach which takes into account land, water and living resources is vital to preserving and boosting biodiversity. Agricultural production needs to be sustainable: capitalising on biological processes and harvesting resources without compromising natural capital such as biodiversity and ecosystem services.
We need to:
- Encourage pasture diversity through techniques such as planned rotational grazing in response to vegetation seeding and trigger points.
- Pasture diversity assists with resilience to climate variability, provides habitat, increases total root mass and depth, accessing greater levels of nutrient and mineral content and quality of feed, while returning organ matter back into the soil. (Find out more, read our case studies, particularly Tallawang, Gilgunnia Station...)
- Retain property trees, revegetate or regenerate trees in pasture/grazing land.
- Trees have the ability to draw minerals from a greater depth within the soil and cycle that back into the topsoil via fallen litter, they also protect pasture soil from damaging effects of weather and provide habitat. (Learn more in the Dukes Plain case study.)
- Leave a natural ‘biodiversity’ patch, perhaps on unproductive or less productive parts of the property, to provide habitat for a diversity of species (as seen in the Lana and Inveraray Downs case studies).
- Minimise use of biocides (herbicides, fungicides, pesticides) – which don’t discriminate between pests and beneficial plants or insects.
The interactions between soils organisms with one another and with plants and animals in the ecosystem constitute an important resource for the sustainable management of agricultural systems. Have a look at our case studies and read our blog posts to learn more about effective biodiversity management in practice.