Biodiversity on Swiss Farmland Recorded Nationwide for the First Time

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Many plant and animal species depend on habitats shaped by agriculture. Where and with what frequency do which species occur in the agricultural landscape? What is the state of their habitats? How effective are the measures taken to increase biodiversity? Agroscope’s biodiversity monitoring programme ’ALL-EMA’ records species and habitat diversity in the Swiss agricultural landscape. This is the basis for understanding the state of habitats on which agricultural production strongly depends. The findings show that at lower elevations (plain and hill zones), species and habitat diversity are markedly lower than at higher elevations (mountain zones).

What do septfoil, the marbled white butterfly and water pipits have in common? These species are all common in the Swiss agricultural landscape. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all species that use agricultural habitats. Populations of spignel, the Damon blue and whinchats, for example, have declined so much that they are now on the Red List of endangered species.

Plain and hill zones less species-rich than the mountain zone

The ’ALL-EMA’ (= ’Agricultural Species and Habitats’) programme provides representative data on habitats and the occurrence of plants, butterflies and birds - the latter two in collaboration with Biodiversity Monitoring Switzerland - at five-yearly intervals. Initial results show that at lower elevations (plain and hill zones), species and habitat diversity are markedly lower than at higher elevations (mountain zones). One would have expected the opposite: more species ought to occur at lower elevations than in the mountains, where the conditions are too inhospitable for many living creatures. Numerous studies show that the intensive human use of the landscape in the lowlands is the reason for this situation.

The measures are effective - but not enough

All farmers in receipt of direct payments manage part of their land as biodiversity priority areas (BPAs). This is meant to prevent a further decline in biodiversity. The Agroscope researchers investigated the differences in species and habitat diversity between these BPAs on the one hand and control areas without promotion measures on the other. They noticed a higher species and habitat diversity in the BPAs in general, but the difference varied according to elevation. At lower elevations, biodiversity is markedly higher on BPAs than in the control areas, confirming the importance of the measures at these elevations. Nevertheless, success in halting the decline of species and habitat diversity on a large scale has not yet been achieved. In the mountain zones, the differences between BPAs and control areas are smaller, and the general state of biodiversity is better. However, some scores in the lower parts of the mountain zones indicate adverse developments for biodiversity similar to the situation at lower elevations.

Identifying causes in order to take action

The findings from the first five-year survey cycle were summarised in the ALL-EMA report on the state of biodiversity in the Swiss landscape. Some of these findings have already been incorporated into the further development of agricultural policy as measures for improving the quality of biodiversity priority areas by improving the requirements for the latter.

Meanwhile, the second survey was initiated so that development over time can be assessed in future. In addition, ALL-EMA researchers will focus more strongly on the causes of the decline in biodiversity. This will make it easier to evaluate the current measures for promoting species and habitat diversity, which in turn will allow us to implement more efficient biodiversity promotion measures - to ensure that septfoil and water pipits have a future in Switzerland.

Background information on ALL-EMA

The ALL-EMA (’Agricultural Species and Habitats’, www.allema.ch) monitoring programme was created on behalf of the Federal Offices for Agriculture (FOAG) and the Environment (FOEN) with the aim of promoting species and habitat diversity in the Swiss agricultural landscape. With ALL-EMA, the systematic monitoring of biodiversity also allows us to conclude how biodiversity-promoting measures can be optimised. The three research areas are:

1)    The systematic and periodic recording of the state of, and change in, species and habitat diversity in the agricultural landscape according to the agricultural environmental objectives;

2)    The assessment of the state of, and change in, species and habitat diversity in the biodiversity priority areas;

3)    Data analysis and provision in order to answer current and future questions about species and habitat diversity in the Swiss agricultural landscape.

ALL-EMA supplements the Swiss Confederation’s monitoring strategy around the focal point ’agricultural landscape’ in order to create synergies with the focal points ’normal landscape’ (www.biodiversitymonitoring.ch), ’inventory areas’ (biotopschutz.wsl.ch) and agricultural environmental monitoring (in german: https://www.blw.admin.ch/blw/de/home/nachhaltige-produktion/umwelt/agrarumweltmonitoring.html).


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