Ecology

Harmonious Agriculture

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Science  21 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5905, pp. 1164
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5905.1164a

Long-term or large-scale agriculture is generally associated with substantial losses of biodiversity, yet there is increasing evidence that these losses can be mitigated by appropriate management practices at the landscape scale. Ranganathan et al. show that cultivation of arecanut palm in the Western Ghats region of southern India has not displaced the great majority (90%) of the native forest bird species such as the Malabar grey hornbill. Several factors underlie this favorable outcome: intercropping with other woody species, which creates structural complexity; and proximity to native forest, which is used as a source of mulch. Although similar effects have been observed in other tropical agro-ecosystems over the short term, the arecanut system has been operating in the Western Ghats for at least 2000 years. Hence, it may offer valuable lessons for the harmonizing of tropical agriculture (including biofuel crops) and conservation in the long run. — AMS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 10.1073/pnas.0808874105 (2008).

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