BWG 9 – Rural landscapes

1. Introduction & Objectives

Globally, agricultural systems face the dual challenge of increasing food production to meet a growing global population, and to reduce the negative impact of agricultural systems on the environment. Agriculture has had a tremendous impact as a driver of environmental degradation; agriculture of the 21st century must therefore move beyond a singular emphasis on yield to also focus on the management of agricultural landscapes to provide multiple ecosystem services.

In large areas of the world natural ecosystems have been converted into cultivated land and rural landscapes and in many countries these landscapes now cover more than 70% of the surface area. Rural landscapes are strongly managed to provide food, fibre and energy. While these provisioning services strongly depend on human inputs (eg. energy, machinery, fertiliser, genetic-modification), agricultural systems still depend on input flows from natural and semi-natural systems. Benefits from nature can be generated at great distances (eg. animal feed produced in Asia for European livestock breeding, wild genetic material to maintain crop vitality and productivity,  influence of tropical forests on regional and global climate), or provided nearby by the mosaic landscape (eg.  erosion prevention by vegetation, natural pest control and pollination). Meanwhile, when rural landscapes are managed in an ‘ecosystem friendly’ way, they also provide services to society such as erosion and runoff prevention, habitat services, and cultural services such as aesthetic appreciation and recreation. There is a critical need to demonstrate how, under what conditions, and at what scale ecosystem service management in rural landscape contributes to improving human wellbeing, directly or through improved and resilient agricultural production. This necessitates a better understanding of the complex adaptive nature of the social-ecological systems that shape rural landscapes,  the need for iterative, place-based, and participatory methodologies; and the inclusion of spatial and temporal scales for identifying trade-offs, synergies, and anticipating shocks and disturbances in the management of rural landscapes.

Objective: The objective of the Working Group on Rural & Cultivated Landscapes is to provide a platform for researchers and practitioners to exchange information and discuss ideas and experiences on assessment of ecosystem services dynamics in rural landscapes, to synthesize research findings, and make this information available to a wide community of users.

2. Lead Team & Members

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3. More Information

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