Environmental benefits of conservation buffers in the United States: Evidence, promise, and open questions

Sarah Taylor Lovell, William C. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Conservation buffers can have a tremendously positive impact on the ecological health of rural landscapes by reducing erosion, improving water quality, increasing biodiversity, and expanding wildlife habitats. Yet, in spite of our knowledge of their value, conservation buffers have not been fully embraced by landowners, or even by policy makers in the United States (US). In this critical review, we examine why conservation buffers remain underutilized in US agroecosystems. We examine the literature on the environmental benefits of buffers, the economic issues related to buffer adoption, and the importance of the aesthetic quality and design of buffers. We propose that many questions related to buffer design and management remain unanswered, and suggest a variety of areas in which future research is necessary to improve buffer functionality and adoption. The implications of this synthesis for designers, planners, scientists, policy makers, and citizens are discussed. Recommendations include: modifying policies to better reflect the preferences of landowners and society, studying buffer systems at the watershed scale using multidisciplinary approaches, and designing buffers that consider aesthetic preferences and regional variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-260
Number of pages12
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2006


  • Agricultural buffer
  • Agroecology
  • Conservation Reserve Program
  • Riparian corridor
  • Sustainable agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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