Global population size is expected to grow from 7.2 billion to 9.6 billion by 2050. Such rapid increases in population, changes in food consumption patterns, urbanisation and environmental degradation represent an unprecedented challenge to food and agricultural systems. Natural resources are necessary to support agriculture and food production, while research has identified that ecosystem services are being diminished due to loss of ecological complexity in agro-ecosystems. Intensively managed agricultural systems, such as on many livestock farms in Wales, can become less resilient to extreme events, such as drought or floods, as a result of the erosion of ecosystem functioning. In contrast, the presence of hedgerows and trees in pasture can increase livestock productivity through the provision of shelter, whilst creating a multifunctional landscape where synergies in agricultural or ecological niches may be exploited to sustainably intensify farming practices.
Improving our understanding of ecosystem function associated with tree-livestock-soil interactions in upland systems in Wales is paramount to increasing terrestrial ecosystem resilience to climate change and extreme events whilst promoting the provision of regulating and supporting ecosystem services. Using an ecosystem services framework approach we will address identified knowledge gaps in ecosystem function and service provision. We will focus on the regulation of climate (carbon), flooding and water quality, the provisioning of food (livestock) and fibre (trees) in addition to studying the relationships between trees-livestock-soil to determine the impact of interventions on the critical functions and supporting services of net primary productivity, soil health and nutrient cycling. The research activities of this cluster are divided into four work packages that address four overarching research questions.
- Develop and parameterise a suite of GIS-based heuristics to model and upscale empirical relationships for spatial optimisation of the landscape. This will identify opportunities for the sustainable intensification and enhancement of ecosystem functions and services in the uplands of Wales.
- Identify potential tipping points, hystereses, and non-linear relationships following land use change through temporal, spatial and process-level statistical analysis.
- Engage with stakeholder groups identified by our partner organisations to address socio-economic barriers and best practices for sustainable intensification in Wales. We will develop tools and indicators to help stakeholders understand the benefits of increasing the complexity and diversity of agri-ecological systems.