Human agriculture key to survival for many threatened species

A number of threatened species in the developing world are entirely dependent on human agriculture for their survival, a new study has found.

According to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), rather than just using farmland to supplement their natural habitat, many species would actually be driven to extinction without it.

Species such as the White-shouldered Ibis in Cambodia, the Sociable Lapwing in Kazakhstan and the Liben Lark in Ethiopia rely on local people and their agriculture.

The greatest benefit comes from local communities practising traditional agriculture with low ecological impact. Valuable practices include grazing animals on land where rare species breed and feed, and growing cereal crops which provide a rich source of food.

“Conservation efforts in the developing world focus a lot of attention on forest species and pristine habitats – so people have usually been seen as a problem. But there are a number of threatened species – particularly birds but probably a whole range of wildlife – which heavily depend on the farmed environment,” Hugh Wright, the lead author, said.

“Many of the traditional farming systems that benefit these species are now under threat both from industrial, large-scale agriculture and from more local economic development. We need to identify valuable farmland landscapes and support local people so that they can continue their traditional farming methods and help maintain this unique biodiversity,” he said.

Conserving biodiversity by supporting or mimicking traditional farming methods has long been a feature in Europe, but it has rarely been applied in developing countries.

The UEA researchers found at least 30 threatened or near threatened species relying on farmland in the developing world, but further research is likely to find many more.

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The study has been recently published in the journal Conservation Letters.

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