Evidence for the impacts of agroforestry on ecosystem services and human well-being in high-income countries: a systematic map

Sarah E. Castle, Daniel C. Miller, Nikolas Merten, Pablo J. Ordonez, Kathy Baylis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Agroforestry bridges the gap that often separates agriculture and forestry by building integrated systems to address both environmental and socio-economic objectives. Existing empirical research has suggested that agroforestry—the integration of trees with crops and/or livestock—can prevent environmental degradation, improve agricultural productivity, increase carbon sequestration, and support healthy soil and healthy ecosystems while providing stable incomes and other benefits to human welfare. However, the extent of the literature supporting or refuting these claims has not been well documented. This study addresses this research gap by collating and describing the evidence for the impacts of agroforestry on ecosystem services and human well-being in high-income countries and presents the characteristics and gaps in the literature. Methods: We searched 5 primary databases and 24 organizational websites using a pre-defined search string designed to capture articles relating agroforestry practices and policy interventions to outcomes in high-income countries. Searches included peer-reviewed and grey literature published in the English language between January 1990 and June 2020. We screened the identified articles for inclusion or exclusion in two stages: title/abstract and full text. We extracted data from articles included at the full-text stage to form the map and associated database. For inclusion, the study in question must have assessed the impacts of the deliberate promotion and/or actual integration of woody perennials (trees, shrubs, etc.) with agricultural crops and/or animals. Results: Our search returned 31,852 articles of which we included 585 primary articles, 6 ongoing primary articles, and 41 systematically conducted literature reviews. The articles spanned three decades and 31 countries. The most studied practices are on linear boundary plantings (hedgerows, shelterbelts, windbreaks, and riparian buffers) and silvopasture systems. The most studied outcome is regulation and maintenance of physical, chemical, and biological conditions as an ecosystem service, followed by agricultural yield and mediation of waste/toxics/other nuisances (nutrient runoff and carbon storage). Conclusions: Results highlight key evidence gaps and areas where research has concentrated. Knowledge on the impacts of specific policy interventions to promote agroforestry remains scarce. The impacts of actual agroforestry practices are more well-studied, but the kinds of practices studied are limited, with most research focusing on two-component systems consisting of a simple tree configuration with one crop or livestock species, such as shelterbelts, windbreaks, and hedgerows, riparian buffers, and scattered trees on farms with crops and/or livestock. Regulating ecosystem services outcomes are by far the most studied, followed by agricultural productivity (an aspect of provisioning ecosystem services), while evidence on human well-being remains limited. We also found geographic biases, with little to no evidence for many countries. These biases suggest the strong need for further research to build the evidence base on agroforestry across high-income countries. The results can inform future research and policy decisions by making the evidence easily accessible and highlighting knowledge gaps as well as areas with enough evidence to conduct further systematic review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalEnvironmental Evidence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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