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Terrestrial ecosystem services

The project focuses on quantifying ecosystem services on farms with a goal to increase the environmental sustainability on high-production agricultural landscapes.

Project Investigator(s)

Andrew MacDougall
Jana Levison, Kari Dunfield, Hafiz Maherali, Amy Newman, Brian Husband, Christina Caruso

Project Objectives

The objectives are to measure the impacts of farming on critical environmental baselines relating to clear air, clean water and biodiversity (terrestrial and aquatic). It also aims to measure remediation efforts on farms to reduce impacts, through active on-farm collaboration with farmers connected to Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) Canada. The project also explores the socioeconomic impacts of “farming services” relating to the marginal land model of precision agriculture/precision conservation where markets support he sale of services as commodities to the benefit of farmers (for example, the ALUS “new-acre program”).

Three researchers sort samples in a greenhouse

Ellen Esch, Mehra Balsara, and Kristin Doherty sort samples in a greenhouse

Project Impacts

Since December 2016, the team has established 22 ALUS farms distributed across 200km squared of Ontario. These farms have become the centre of co-investigator and highly qualified personnel (HQP) research on services, relating to marginal land habitat restoration on ALUS farms. This project has demonstrated how restored areas on marginal lands created an accelerating wave of ecosystem service provision. This wave starts with immediate positive responses of beneficial insects. They have also shown significant longer-term positive increases in soil organic matter including root biomass in restored marginal lands, with stable recalcitrant soil carbon- a critical component of soil storage of atmospheric CO2.

Project Progress

This project is part of a collaboration at three levels with the Food from Thought grant- terrestrial ecosystem services, ecosystems group in Integrative Biology and the broader Food from Thought effort. Combined, the research clarifies how small restored marginal areas can provide significant benefits to increased environmental sustainability on farms. The collaboration has also demonstrated how changes in economic pressures in the agricultural industry globally may start to create market conditions where these services could begin to ‘pay’ with direct benefit.

Visit our ecosystem services research.