Exploring the landscape ecological implications of the land sparing or sharing debate

Symposium organised by:

Simon Smart, NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster, UK.


The symposium will explore the possible landscape ecological consequences of land-sparing or sharing across Europe and other parts of the world. It will build a clearer, more evidence-based assessment of the contribution of land-sparing or sharing to reconciling food production and conservation.


World food demand is expected to at least double by 2050. In addition, human disturbance and agricultural intensification contributed to failure in meeting the 2010 CBD target to slow the rate of global biodiversity decline. New approaches are needed to reconcile the demands of a growing human population with stewardship of biodiversity and local ecosystem services on which the world’s poorest disproportionately depend. Land-sparing has been suggested as a possible strategy. This is based on the notion that increasing yields on most productive lands spares other land from farming. These lands are then either left as existing diverse forest or recover back to species diverse forest over time. The success of the strategy depends on a number of assumptions: that biodiversity is indeed highest in late-successional, undisturbed ecosystems; that reassembly of degraded ecosystems will occur; that spared lands will be protected in perpetuity; and that the net benefit to humans including communities emigrating from previously low intensity farmland will be positive. The alternative vision is land-sharing. Here, global food demand and stewardship of biodiversity and ecosystem services are met by lower intensity farming but over larger areas in order to achieve the required total crop yield.

In reality the land-sparing/sharing concept depicts a continuum of ecosystem service delivery. The position on the continuum that optimises delivery is likely to be taxon and ecosystem specific yet some analyses appear to favour the extreme land-sparing position. This has generated opposing views. While others have sought to emphasise the complexity and context-dependence of the concept, the attraction of the extreme position to those seeking a simple solution is a potential concern given the clear importance of ecological context in determining to what extent food production and biodiversity can be reconciled and the need to consider impacts on low-intensity farming communities. The symposium will cover a rich mixture of approaches including 1) modelling the impacts of land-sparing scenarios perhaps including climate change as an interacting driver, 2) retrospective studies that examine observed changes in succession and productivity and their impacts on diversity at different scales, 3) studies that take a social-ecological perspective examining questions about governance.


We hope that the symposium will foster interdisciplinary debate leading to new collaborative research. Key outputs include scientific papers and a symposium report.

Oral presentations