2014-09-11. Changing how we farm can save evolutionary diversity, study suggests.

posted Sep 19, 2014, 10:11 AM by Alan Gould
For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 3. Excerpt: A new study by biologists at Stanford University and UC Berkeley highlights the dramatic hit on the evolutionary diversity of wildlife when forests are transformed into agricultural lands. ...The researchers studied nearly 500 species of birds in Costa Rica in three types of habitat, and calculated the birds’ phylogenetic diversity, a measure of the evolutionary history embodied in wildlife. ...The study, to be published in the Sept. 12 issue of the journal Science, found that the phylogenetic diversity of the birds fared worst in habitats characterized by intensive farmlands consisting of single crops. Such intensive monocultures supported 900 million fewer years of evolutionary history, on average, compared with untouched forest reserves. The researchers found a middle ground in diversified agriculture, or farmlands with multiple crops adjoined by small patches of forest. Such landscapes supported on average 600 million more years of evolutionary history than the single crop farms. “The loss of habitat to agriculture is the primary driver of diversity loss globally, but we hadn’t known until now how agriculture affected diversity in an evolutionary context,” said study co-lead author Daniel Karp, UC Berkeley postdoctoral research fellow in environmental science, policy and management. “We found that forests outperform agriculture when it comes to supporting a larger range of species that are more distantly related, so by maintaining patches of tropical trees and multiple crops on their land, farmers can enhance evolutionarily distinct species.”... http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/09/11/diversified-farming-evolutionary-diversity/. By Sarah Yang, UC Berkeley News Center.