This study suggests that, while viticulture and biodiversity conservation can coexist in organic agriculture, these parallel goals can be even better supported by also combining extensive management and the preservation of natural habitats in the wider landscape. Food production systems aim to produce crops while also protecting biodiversity and maintaining ecosystem services (the valuable contributions that ecosystems make, from water, air and climate regulation to supporting income via tourism). This is a major goal of agricultural ecology (agroecology): to design multifunctional ecosystems that foster synergies and mitigate trade-offs between these three factors.
Organic farming is a type of agroecological management that aims to produce food using natural processes and substances, and tends to have lower environmental impacts than conventional farming. Organic farming is implemented in all parts of the world, and its use is increasing in Europe. The EU aims for 25% of its farmland to be organic by 2030 in its recent Green Deal (in 2020, 9.1% of the EU’s agricultural land was farmed organically). Prior evidence suggests that organic farming positively impacts biodiversity and several ecosystem services (e.g. natural pest control, pollination, carbon sequestration), but some studies have found it produces lower yields in comparison with conventional farming.
This study investigated whether agricultural production and biodiversity conservation can both be optimised. The researchers focus on vineyards, perennial agroecosystems that are intensively managed. Vineyards represent one of the most pesticide-dependent crops in Europe, because vines are sensitive to many pests and diseases. Organic vineyards also face pest and pathogen outbreaks that threaten yield. Maintaining output into the future is a priority for those involved in wine production and a heavy use of pesticides and fungicides may often be considered necessary to maintain yields.
Despite these intensive practices, vineyards also have the potential to host diverse organisms as their management does not involve annual soil disturbance. The vegetation between vine rows can be a refuge for many organisms and managing this ‘inter-row’ vegetation is an important driver of vineyard biodiversity and ecosystem services. In addition, inter-row management does not necessarily differ between conventional and organic vineyards, suggesting that this could be an interesting lever to limit environmental impacts of viticulture, independently of their type of management.
As vineyards are very different from arable systems, the researchers wanted to explore whether the benefits of organic farming seen in arable systems would also occur in viticulture. The researchers explored the relationships between biodiversity at different trophic levels (14 taxa) and certain ecosystem services (14 proxies for agricultural production, soil quality/fertility, and natural pest control). They studied 38 conventional and organic1 vineyards in southwestern France across a wide landscape range with differing proportions of semi-natural habitats. This allowed them to explore any interactive effects between farming systems and landscape structure.
Compared with conventional farming, organic farming increased the richness of most taxa (except, ground beetles and earthworms, which had significantly lower richness in organic fields). Ground-dwelling spiders, leafhopper relatives and soil bacteria were significantly more abundant in organic vineyards. Natural pest control services (via natural predators) also increased by 9%2. By contrast, wine production was lower (by 11%) in organic than conventional systems.
The researchers found that there were some cases where there were no tradeoffs between biodiversity and production, but these cases were not correlated with organic or non-organic management. There were some aspects of conventional vineyards that achieved high levels of both biodiversity and production. While many organic farming practices focus mainly on eliminating synthetic pesticides and herbicides, the researchers suggest that practices found on some non-organic vineyards, such as reducing persistent, non-synthetic pesticides, and reducing tillage and mowing, can strongly benefit biodiversity. They advise that these other key management practices should also be considered in the regulation of organic agriculture.
Additionally, landscape composition or configuration were not clear drivers of increased biodiversity; landscape context mainly affected the richness or abundance of aerial biodiversity groups, and some marginally significant effects have also been found on predator arthropods. The researchers therefore posit that landscape context could be further investigated for its role in pest control services.
Overall, this study showed that vineyard management can be adapted to optimise both biodiversity and production simultaneously. The researchers highlight the need to complement organic farming with other solutions at both local and landscape scales to create sustainable viticulture systems which optimise biodiversity conservation and provision of multiple ecosystem services as well as agricultural production.
Due to the relative newness of the term, the definition of ‘regenerative agriculture’ has not yet crystallised, but is generally concerned with not just creating agricultural systems that are merely ‘sustainable’, but which somehow ‘restore’ or ‘regenerate’ natural ecological functions. Regenerative agriculture, therefore, overlaps with organic farming methods as it shares the same aim but goes beyond farming practices by envisaging agriculture within a landscape approach. However, as there is no certification scheme, a self-proclaimed regenerative farmer could decide to use pesticides and would not receive organic certification. This study looks at combining organic practices with compatible landscape-management practices to design multifunctional agroecosystems. For further information on regenerative agriculture see: [Accessed 10 July 2023].
- Organic vineyards had been under organic management for at least six years, and data was collected in 2019.
- The researchers suggest that this is due to the impact of pesticides on natural predators of crop pests; in organic systems, natural enemies (e.g. ground-dwelling spiders) were far more (86%) abundant than in conventional systems.
Beaumelle, L., Giffard, B., Tolle, P., Winter, S., Entlang, M. H., Benitez, E., Aller, J. G., Auriol, A., Bonnard, O., Charbonnier, Y., Fabreguettes, O., Joubard, B., Kolb, S., Ostandie, N., Marie Reiff, J., Richart-Cervera, S. and Rusch, A. (2023) Biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services and organic viticulture: A glass half-full. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 351: 108474.
To cite this article/service:
“Science for Environment Policy”: European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by the Science Communication Unit, The University of the West of England, Bristol.
Notes on content:
The contents and views included in Science for Environment Policy are based on independent, peer reviewed research and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission. Please note that this article is a summary of only one study. Other studies may come to other conclusions.
- Publication date
- 2 August 2023
- Directorate-General for Environment