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Research Project: Developing Best Management Practices for Poultry Litter to Improve Agronomic Value and Reduce Air, Soil and Water Pollution

Location: Poultry Production and Product Safety Research

Title: Temperate silvopastures have greater ecosystem services than conventional pasture systems

item AMORIM, HELEN - University Of Arkansas
item Ashworth, Amanda
item O'Brien, Peter
item THOMAS, ANDREW - University Of Missouri
item RUNKLE, BEN - University Of Arkansas
item PHILIPP, DIRK - University Of Arkansas

Submitted to: Scientific Reports
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/26/2023
Publication Date: 10/31/2023
Citation: Amorim, H., Ashworth, A.J., O'Brien, P.L., Thomas, A.L., Runkle, B., Philipp, D. 2023. Temperate silvopastures have greater ecosystem services than conventional pasture systems. Scientific Reports. 13. Article 18658.

Interpretive Summary: Silvopasture is the integration of trees, forage, and livestock in the same piece of land, aiming to diversify production while providing a range of ecosystem services (or benefits to humans provided by the natural environment). Documented benefits of silvopastoral systems include improved animal welfare from having trees in pasture, greater production per area, increased carbon storage in soil from the atmosphere, and increased economic returns for producers long-term. However, evaluations of ecosystems services at the system-level (silvopasture and pasture only systems) including soil health, microclimate, and productivity (net and primary) have not been completed in temperate systems holistically to date. Thus, researchers set out to identify multiple ecosystem services of silvopasture compared to a pasture only system, by means of evaluating differences in soil properties, cattle temperature and microclimate, forage production, cattle weight gains, and soil health. The greater SOC content, water retention, and soil health in the studied silvopasture illustrates environmental benefits of more complex and diverse systems over monocultures. The lower soil and cattle temperatures in the silvopasture indicates the presence of trees creates milder conditions and can reduce cattle heat stress during summer. Forage production and cattle weight gains were similar between systems, suggesting that weight gains were affected by other variables (e.g., forage quality), and indicate that the integration of trees and pasture causes no losses in global system productivity, even increasing land use efficiency. Considering, silvopasture allows for sustainable production it stands as a promising practice to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. Information generated by this study can foster the development of policies and further payments to farmers towards the adoption of silvopasture as a regenerative practice.

Technical Abstract: Management and design affect systems’ ability to deliver ecosystem services and meet sustainable intensification needs for a growing population. Soil-plant-animal health evaluations at the systems level for conventional and silvopastoral environments are lacking and challenge adoption across temperate regions. Impacts of silvopasture on soil health, microclimate, cattle heat stress, forage quality and yield, and cattle weight gain were compared to a conventional pasture in the mid-southern US. Here, we illustrate silvopastures have greater soil organic carbon, water content, and overall quality, with lower temperatures (soil and cattle) than conventional pastures. Forage production and cattle weight gains were similar across systems; yet, approximately three times more land area was needed to yield equivalent net productivity (tree, nuts, forage, and animal) in one ha of silvopasture. Temperate silvopastures enhanced delivery of ecosystem services by improving soil health and promoting animal welfare without productivity losses, thus allowing sustainable production under a changing climate.