As the world’s human population reaches 7.6 billion people[i], it is striking to consider the sheer magnitude of the agricultural practices that are required to keep up with feeding this expanding population. Increased land clearing to accommodate large-scale, commercial agriculture poses a considerable threat to the biodiversity of native flora and fauna and is a significant driver of their decline[ii]. Habitat fragmentation is a key pressure involved in the loss of biodiversity. This is due to the fact that populations may become isolated with no gene flow occurring between the different groups, allowing for an increased rate of inbreeding along with lower rates of reproductive success[iii]. Habitat fragmentation also prevents populations from recolonizing areas that have been subjected to localised extinction, limiting the abundance of the species[iv]. Butler et al. (2007) also suggest that habitat fragmentation drastically affects specialist species, as they are heavily dependent on unique niches[v]. This leaves us with a tricky question: do we have to choose between maintaining productive agriculture or conserving biodiversity? My answer is no.
Compromise is key
I had the pleasure of volunteering in a conservation project that directly addressed the problem of maintaining biodiversity in areas of high agricultural density. Jeggaline, a farm located just outside of Tharwa, A.C.T, is making significant progress in addressing farmland conservation issues and are working closely with A.C.T Parks Rangers and conservation volunteers to show that a compromise can be struck between farmers and conservationists. Here, the farmers have put aside valuable farmland in order to create large wildlife corridors that will accommodate the movement of fauna across the agricultural landscapes. During my time at the site, we planted over 160 seedlings that comprised of species native to the area such as Red-Stem Wattle, Apple Box, Red Box, Yellow Box and Blackwood. This project will provide key pathways for threatened species such as the Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) and Speckled Warbler (Pyrrholaemus sagittatus) to navigate their way to adjacent habitats using native floral environments. This will hopefully allow successful gene flow to occur between populations within the species and increase their genetic rusticity, as well as increasing their access to a wider range of food and shelter.
Reflecting upon my time in the field and my familiarity of biodiversity conservation issues, I think that agriculture and conservation can reach a compromise. Although it may not be an idyllic situation for either party, it is possible to find a position where fundamental needs may be met for both agriculturalists and native species. I believe that biodiversity has a strong chance at being preserved by eliminating habitat isolation and increasing the corridors through which the animals can move. Jeggaline was a clear example of the great work people are doing to protect and conserve biodiversity with a minimal amount of interference on vital agricultural practices.
I’d like to thank Brian from Conservation Volunteers, the farmers at Jeggaline and Ranger Brian from A.C.T Parks for allowing me to take part in this project and gain first hand experience in vital conservation issues.
Blog Written By: u6102723
[i] Current World Population. Worldometers. Accessed on 3/09/2018 at 6:08pm at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj-r5zEsJ7dAhXZ7GEKHedEDcsQFjADegQICxAL&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.worldometers.info%2Fworld-population%2F&usg=AOvVaw2aa5LDgvtdSVuTtXE2JGkz
[ii] Butler, S.J., Vickery, J.A. and Norris, K., 2007. Farmland biodiversity and the footprint of agriculture. Science, 315(5810), pp.381-384.
[iii] Fahrig, L., 2003. Effects of habitat fragmentation on biodiversity. Annual review of ecology, evolution, and systematics, 34(1), pp.487-515.
[iv] Opdam, P. and Wascher, D., 2004. Climate change meets habitat fragmentation: linking landscape and biogeographical scale levels in research and conservation. Biological conservation, 117(3), pp.285-297.
[v] Butler, S.J., Vickery, J.A. and Norris, K., 2007. Farmland biodiversity and the footprint of agriculture. Science, 315(5810), pp.381-384.