Agroforestry “can aid diversity”

A new study of bird biodiversity in India offers hope that rainforest agriculture can coexist with conserving forest species. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, challenges earlier studies showing that forest biodiversity suffers when agriculture replaces forests.

The research found that Indian farmers in the Western Ghats were able to grow arecanut crops while retaining 90% of the bird biodiversity in the adjacent forest. This type of agriculture also was found to be sustainable, as the studied area had been cultivated continuously for the past two millennia.

Scientists attribute the success of the arecanut palm crop in preserving avian biodiversity to two factors. First, the crop is able to leave a “high vertical structural complexity” of the forest intact, which provides varied habitats for many bird species. Second, growing these crops near a rainforest allows farmers to utilise the natural abundance of water and leaf mulch without consuming additional resources.
In addition to the arecanut palm, researchers think their findings also may be important for the shade-grown coffee produced in Central and South America. Shade-grown coffee is similar to the arecanut palm in that it also retains biodiversity because of the preservation of the vertical forest system.
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