Livestock (grazing) systems provide a large diversity of ecosystem services
The animal article of the month for December is ‘Perception of livestock ecosystem services in grazing area‘
The interaction between livestock systems and their respective environments is complex. Livestock agro-ecosystems makes a large contribution to a diversity of Ecosystem Services (ES), i.e. the benefits that people can obtain from ecosystems, in contrast to the possible negative externalities of livestock production (“dis-services”). While (agro)biodiversity clearly has an intrinsic value, three categories of ES have been identified: provisioning (meat, milk and eggs production, draft power, dung…), regulating and maintenance (maintenance of habitat or quality of water…) and cultural services (landscape of cultural interest, local knowledge…). In particular, low input grazing systems provide a large diversity of ES.
When considering non-provisioning ES linked to livestock grazing, perceived by a diversity of experts across the world, the reported impacts of livestock grazing on the different ES were much more positive than negative. This holds especially true for some cultural ES such as those related to cultural, historic and natural heritage, knowledge systems and educational values, or landscape values. However, cultural ES have been particularly poorly studied, despite the fact that they were found to be the most valued by the respondents. Impacts of livestock grazing on some regulating ES such as habitat provision, nutrient cycling, or bush encroachment and fire control, were also perceived as largely positive.
Interestingly, respondents reported more positive impacts in Europe, in protected areas and in areas where several livestock species were present in the same grazing area, which could relate to higher awareness and knowledge around ES in those areas. For instance, higher levels of recognition of ES have been reported in Europe, probably in relation to the existence of dedicated EU regulatory framework and policies. The long-term sustainability of those policies and related support systems and incentives was, however, perceived as a major issue by the respondents. Outside Europe, the lack of adequate legislative and policy framework was viewed as an important drawback for the continued provision of ecosystem services in grazing systems, and the sustainable management of natural resources in general.
Not too long ago, two articles were published in Nature. One (the Editorial) gave advice to IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) to find a consensus about the importance of ecosystem services. The News Feature provided more detail about the ideological clash for understanding ecosystem services among policy-makers and the scientific community. While both have received a large number of comments, it remains true that ecosystem services need to be better understood. Indeed, there is still a lot to be done on the understanding of ES interactions at system level and across systems, and to promote an agro-ecosystem approach to the management of animal genetic resources and to livestock systems in general, as illustrated by the Global Plan of Action for Animal Genetic Resources. Our specific survey also underlines that close linkages between extensive livestock grazing and wider biodiversity protection in protected areas deserves further consideration. Better understanding does not often come with a price tag but hopefully in the future, ecosystem services will be continuously be taken into account for better sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.
This article is freely available for one month: ‘‘Perception of livestock ecosystem services in grazing area.
Author: Gregoire Leroy et al.