Management intensity - not biodiversity - the driver of ecosystem services in a long-term row crop experiment

Sieglinde S. Snapp, Lowell E. Gentry, Richard Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A positive role for biodiversity is assumed for managed ecosystems. We conducted a 12-year study of this sustainability principle, through separate manipulation of management intensity and crop diversity. The site was located in southwest Michigan, representative of rain-fed production, with high climate variability and well-drained soils. Provisioning services of grain and protein yield were monitored, simultaneous with supporting services of soil fertility, C and N, and regulating services associated with water quality (N-use efficiency and nitrate-N leached in gravimetric lysimeters). Surprisingly, a strong role for management was shown, and almost nil for crop diversity. Organic management (ORG) sustained soil fertility, augmented soil C (36% increase), enhanced N retention (50% decrease in nitrate-N leaching) and improved N-use efficiency, compared to conventional, integrated (INT) management. Provisioning of grain - quantity, quality and temporal yield stability - was highest in INT continuous maize (monoculture and biculture) with an annual yield of 6.4Mgha-1, compared to ORG of 5.1Mgha-1. Biodiverse rotational systems (three and six species) produced 25% lower yield, but the grain was of high quality. A focus on ORG management rather than crop diversity is suggested as a means to sequester C, and produced grain in a semi-closed system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-248
Number of pages7
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Aug 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Crop diversity
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Organic
  • Soil carbon
  • Sustainable agriculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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