U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 348 (2023) 108398



U.S. government work


Intensification, the process of intensifying land management to enhance agricultural goods, results in “intensive” pastures that are planted with productive grasses and fertilized. These intensive pastures provide essential ecosystem services, including forage production for livestock. Understanding the synergies and tradeoffs of pasture intensification on the delivery of services across climatic regions is crucial to shape policies and incentives for better management of natural resources. Here, we investigated how grassland intensification affects key components of provisioning (forage productivity and quality), supporting (plant diversity) and regulating services (CO2 and CH4 fluxes) by comparing these services between intensive versus extensive pastures in subtropical and temperate pastures in the USDA Long-term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network sites in Florida and Oklahoma, USA over multiple years. Our results suggest that grassland intensification led to a decrease in measured supporting and regulating services, but increased forage productivity in temperate pastures and forage digestibility in subtropical pastures. Intensification decreased the net CO2 sink of subtropical pastures while it did not affect the sink capacity of temperate pastures; and it also increased environmental CH4 emissions from subtropical pastures and reduced CH4 uptake in temperate pastures. Intensification enhanced the global warming potential associated with C fluxes of pastures in both ecoregions. Our study demonstrates that comparisons of agroecosystems in contrasting ecoregions can reveal important drivers of ecosystem services and general or region-specific opportunities and solutions to maintaining agricultural production and reducing environmental footprints. Further LTAR network-scale comparisons of multiple ecosystem services across croplands and grazinglands intensively vs extensively managed are warranted to inform the sustainable intensification of agriculture within US and beyond. Our results highlight that achieving both food security and environmental stewardship will involve the conservation of less intensively managed pastures while adopting sustainable strategies in intensively managed pastures.

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