Conventional land-use intensification reduces species richness and increases production: A global meta-analysis

Michael Beckmann*, Katharina Gerstner, Morodoluwa Akin-Fajiye, Silvia Ceaușu, Stephan Kambach, Nicole L. Kinlock, Helen R.P. Phillips, Willem Verhagen, Jessica Gurevitch, Stefan Klotz, Tim Newbold, Peter H. Verburg, Marten Winter, Ralf Seppelt

*Corresponding author for this work

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Most current research on land-use intensification addresses its potential to either threaten biodiversity or to boost agricultural production. However, little is known about the simultaneous effects of intensification on biodiversity and yield. To determine the responses of species richness and yield to conventional intensification, we conducted a global meta-analysis synthesizing 115 studies which collected data for both variables at the same locations. We extracted 449 cases that cover a variety of areas used for agricultural (crops, fodder) and silvicultural (wood) production. We found that, across all production systems and species groups, conventional intensification is successful in increasing yield (grand mean + 20.3%), but it also results in a loss of species richness (−8.9%). However, analysis of sub-groups revealed inconsistent results. For example, small intensification steps within low intensity systems did not affect yield or species richness. Within high-intensity systems species losses were non-significant but yield gains were substantial (+15.2%). Conventional intensification within medium intensity systems revealed the highest yield increase (+84.9%) and showed the largest loss in species richness (−22.9%). Production systems differed in their magnitude of richness response, with insignificant changes in silvicultural systems and substantial losses in crop systems (−21.2%). In addition, this meta-analysis identifies a lack of studies that collect robust biodiversity (i.e. beyond species richness) and yield data at the same sites and that provide quantitative information on land-use intensity. Our findings suggest that, in many cases, conventional land-use intensification drives a trade-off between species richness and production. However, species richness losses were often not significantly different from zero, suggesting even conventional intensification can result in yield increases without coming at the expense of biodiversity loss. These results should guide future research to close existing research gaps and to understand the circumstances required to achieve such win-win or win-no-harm situations in conventional agriculture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1941-1956
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number6
Early online date9 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


This work was supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC; NSF DBI-1052875), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research ? UFZ and sDiv, the Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig (DFG FZT 118). M.B. and S.K. acknowledge funding by the Helmholtz Research School for Ecosystem Services under Changing Land Use and Climate (ESCALATE, VH-KO-613). T.N. acknowledges funding from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NE/J011193/1) and a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant. K.G. received funding with the project GLUES from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (01LL0901A). W.V. and P.V. are supported by OPERAs, funded within the EU 7th Framework Program (308393). J.G. acknowledges support from the U.S. NSF project 1119891. This research contributes to the Global Land Project ( We thank Kristin Powell, Chase Mendenhall for input to the conceptual design of the study; Wolfgang Viechtbauer for help with the meta-analysis; Byron C. Wallace for support with text analysis; Jeff Kaplan for providing land-use history data; Tom?? V?clav?k, Simon Attwood and Josef Settele for comments; Rachel Lorraine Lamb, Anna-Katharina Steinmetz and Marketa V?clav?kova for support in paper screening.

FundersFunder number
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity ResearchDFG FZT 118
Helmholtz Research School for Ecosystem Services
Rachel Lorraine Lamb
Synthesis Centre of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
National Science FoundationDBI-1052875
Directorate for Biological Sciences1119891
Seventh Framework Programme308393
National Socio-Environmental Synthesis CenterNSF DBI-1052875
Natural Environment Research CouncilNE/J011193/1
Leverhulme Trust
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftFZT 118
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung01LL0901A
Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung
Helmholtz AssociationVH-KO-613


    • arable fields
    • biodiversity
    • conservation
    • crop production
    • forests
    • grasslands
    • green fodder
    • land management
    • wood production


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