UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and landscape context in organic vs conventional rice paddy wetlands in Kerala, India Thaikkattil Louis, Libin


Agriculture is the most extensive global land use and a leading cause of biodiversity loss. Organic farming is often promoted as a means of reducing agricultural impacts on biodiversity by reducing or avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and can result in a 30 percent increase in biodiversity for some species in some systems. A potential trade-off is that organic agriculture can lower crop yields, thereby requiring a greater land area to meet crop production goals. In this study, I examined whether forest cover surrounding rice wetlands can reduce the trade-off between biodiversity and productivity via comparison of paired organic and conventional farms. I compared abundance, Simpson diversity, and rarefied richness of amphibians, and abundance of arthropods in organic and conventional rice wetlands in four districts in Kerala, southern India, from July to October of 2016. I selected 31 organic rice fields and paired each with a nearby conventional field. Pairs were located to maximize the variation in forest cover in the landscape surrounding the fields. Farmers provided data on mean rice yields of each farm. Amphibians were significantly more abundant and diverse in organic fields, and species composition differed from those of conventional fields. Arthropods were more abundant in organic fields. While mean yield (tons of rice/hectare) of organic farms was significantly lower than in conventional farms, landscape context ameliorated the trade-off between productivity and biodiversity. In organic fields surrounded by more forest patches, rice yields did not decrease as much compared to the landscapes with less forest, while the increase in biodiversity (as compared to nearby conventional agriculture) was not as large. My results suggest that forested landscapes reduce the trade-off between biodiversity and productivity in rice fields in Kerala. These results could aid in designing agricultural ecosystems that maximize biodiversity benefits. For example, promoting more diversified tree-based agroecosystems, and protecting remaining uncultivated areas in the landscape could improve farmland biodiversity while minimizing the impacts to the agricultural productivity of the landscape. Furthermore, in intensively managed landscapes comprised of cropland and urban land cover, organic farming may have a larger effect on biodiversity than in landscapes with more forest cover.

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