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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2023 / A moderate differential effect of organic and conventional agriculture across taxonomic groups inhabiting farmland ponds

Rafaela A Almeida, Pieter Lemmens, Marie Cours, Luc Denys, Dries Adriaens, Jo Packet, Jeroen Venderickx, Thierry Vercauteren, Koen Parmentier, Marc Knockaert, Koen Martens, and Luc De Meester (2023)

A moderate differential effect of organic and conventional agriculture across taxonomic groups inhabiting farmland ponds

Freshwater Biology, 68(4):645-658.

1. Organic agriculture is increasingly promoted as a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional agriculture, as it restricts the use of fertilisers and synthetic pesticides. However, the impact of both farming systems on aquatic biodiversity is strongly debated. Ponds are abundant in agricultural landscapes and strongly contribute to biodiversity. They also respond strongly to land use on a very local scale. The present study assessed the effects of conventional and organic agriculture on the taxonomic diversity of multiple groups of aquatic organisms at local and regional spatial scales. 2. We conducted a broad scale field survey to quantify the differential impact of conventional and organic agriculture on local environmental conditions in ponds, on community composition and on local, among site and regional diversity of macrophytes, cladoceran zooplankton and selected macroinvertebrates in Belgian farmland ponds (Flanders). 3. We observed that organic agriculture was moderately positively associated with higher local species richness for shoreline vegetation, but not for other organism groups. Only minor differences were observed for among-pond variation, and these were mostly related to rare species of cladocerans and heteropterans. At the regional scale, ponds in organic showed higher species richness than in conventional farmland for shoreline vegetation, emergent vegetation, and cladoceran zooplankton, but lower for coleopterans and gastropods. There was no significant effect of agricultural type on water quality. 4. We conclude that organic farming is associated with moderate positive effects on pond biodiversity and regional species richness of plants and zooplankton. We observed no systematic differences between the two types of agriculture in local environmental conditions in ponds. The absence of large differences in biodiversity and water quality between ponds located in organic and conventional farmland might be related to the dominance of intensive conventional farming in our study region and the history of conventional farming around ponds that are now surrounded by organic farming. Future studies should include other factors such as the structure of the landscape and the role of natural elements such as buffer strips surrounding the ponds.
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