Agricultural Intensification: A threat to biodiversity

The relationship between biodiversity and agricultural intensification on a farmed land is interdependent. Because agriculture has a negative impact on biodiversity, as later can increase agricultural production.

Agricultural Intensification: A threat to biodiversity

The decline of biodiversity is a major concern nowadays. The agricultural intensification is a major cause of biodiversity loss and it affects the whole ecosystem. Agricultural practices destroy biodiversity by converting natural habitats to intensely managed systems and by affecting water systems. 

Farmers maximize their immediate profit without considering the negative effects of their practices on biodiversity. For many farmers, the land that they farm today has been part of their family’s heritage for generations. The ecosystems are part of your natural local heritage and we should protect them in order to ensure its survival.

A handful of farm dirt is rich in biodiversity. As it includes millions of microorganisms, such as worms, mites, ants and spiders, bacteria, fungi and even the roots of plants growing above. Soils develop complex ecosystems that make agriculture possible.

These organisms can help farmers to reduce the negative effects of farming. When they eat and dig underground, burrowing organisms mix the upper layers, redistribute nutrients and increase the amount of water absorbed by the soil. Some soil microorganisms are critical to local farming techniques.

Intensive Agriculture: A threat to Biodiversity

Field drainage

Active drainage for the creation of farmland as in land reclamation could cause a decrease in wetlands. It has led to direct damage and decline in many species of plant, mammal, and insect.

Use of Fertilizers 

While fertilizers increase yields as they contain essential nutrients of the plant. But their leakage causes serious environmental damage. Due to these increases in fertilizers, stocking densities and nutrients there has been an increase in pollution of rivers leading to loss of biodiversity.

Algal blooms from nutrient pollution damage freshwater biodiversity and are affecting marine habitats, with over 500 ‘dead zones’ of oxygen-depleted water around the world. 

Use of Pesticides and Herbicides 

The use of pesticides negatively relates to species richness of plants, ground beetles and birds, as well as to the biological control potential. The number of plant species reduces by the use of herbicides. Less plant and bird species were found on farms where we apply more fungicides.

Use of insecticides affect the numbers of ground beetle and plant species, as well as the biological control potential. Recent meta-studies found that systemic insecticides seriously damage invertebrates, amphibians, and birds.

Effect on Climate Change 

Agricultural intensification contributes to climate change, with knock-on effects for biodiversity. Livestock production is a major contributor, producing an estimated 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. 

Removal of Small-scale Farmland habitats

The removal of habitats such as trees, hedges, dry stone walls, woodland, and scrub, together with land reclamation, create a decrease in the biodiversity. 

Substitution of silage making for haymaking

 Silage making is generally more intensive than haymaking. It leads to a decline in grassland habitats creating problems for many species, most publicly the corncrake (Crex crex).

Desertion of small-scale crop rotation

The abandonment of small-scale crop rotation and the intensification of large-scale farming increases the number of nutrients being added to the land. It may result in eutrophication and pollution of watercourses.

Increasing the number of Sheep:

Overgrazing has caused the destruction of many habitats especially peat lands. Overgrazing results in the exposure of bare rock and the broadening of rivers, making their course highly unstable from one flood event to another and increased braiding of channels.

Conservation of Biodiversity:

  • Follow a nutrient management plan that will ensure an efficient and environmentally friendly use of nutrients that may be organic and chemical fertilizers. It is based on the nutrient requirement of the farm and reflects the location and time for land spreading. Following a plan like this will help prevent run-off into rivers and lakes, thus protecting their biodiversity.
  • The contribution of trees is great to the conservation of biodiversity. The perennial nature of trees in agroforestry systems greatly impacts microclimate and soil properties. By positively influencing the abundance, diversity, and activity of soil biota, trees in agroforestry systems contribute to soil health.
  • Implement a grassland management plan to prevent poaching and overgrazing of grassland thus protecting the habitat to prevent biodiversity.
  • Protect watercourses, water bodies, and wells because these are the essential elements of the ecosystem.
  • Retain wildlife habitats e.g. hedgerows, woodlands, grasslands, scrub etc. for the conservation of biodiversity.
  • Diverse crop rotations improve soil, increase farm biodiversity and boost crop yields. High-quality soils encourage dense populations of microbes, enhance natural biological control of harmful pathogens, slow turnover of nutrients, encourage communities of beneficial insects and improve soil aeration and drainage.
  • Maintain farm and field boundaries including hedgerows and stonewalls to reduce runoff from the field.
  • Restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers near field boundaries, ponds, streams and wells. Because they negatively impact our soil system.
  • Rotate tillage crops to enhance biodiversity in an area.
  • Farmers should Inspect equipment that has been in a water body or terrestrial site for attached flora, contaminated soil or obvious animal life before moving to another site. The material should be removed before relocating (this can often be done by power hosing equipment).
  • Formerly choosing plants for a site, make sure that they are not invasive, non-native species. Ask for advice in your garden center and request plants from the local origin and from certified sources to decrease the biodiversity loses.


Biodiversity is a dynamic process that depends upon agricultural production and on the use of pesticides. Agroforestry practices show great potential as biodiversity-based interventions causative to an ecological agricultural intensification. We find that a tax on inputs can have a positive effect on yield since it can be considered as a social signal helping farmers to avoid myopic behavior in regards to the positive effect of biodiversity on yield.

Farmers control the number of inputs and labor to be employed for production, where inputs are taxed. They maximize their profit without considering the effect of their practices on biodiversity.

This article is jointly written by Rabia Yasin and Ubaid-ur-Rehman
University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Pakistan. 
Corresponding Author can be reached at

By Rabia Yasin

How can I stand on the ground every day and not feel its power? How can I live my life stepping on this stuff and not wonder at it? Soil Scientist!!!!