Effectively managing farming to meet food demand is vital for the future of biodiversity. Increasing yields on existing farmland can allow the abandonment (sparing) of low-yielding areas that subsequently recover as secondary forest. A key question is whether such “secondary sparing” conserves biodiversity more effectively than retaining wildlife-friendly habitat within farmland (“land sharing”). Focusing on the Colombian Choco-Andes, a global hotspot of threatened biodiversity, and on cattle farming, we examined the outcomes of secondary sparing and land sharing via simulated scenarios that maintained constant landscape-wide production and equal within-pasture yield: (1) for species and functional diversity of dung beetles and birds; (2) for avian phylogenetic diversity; and (3) across different stages of secondary forest regeneration, relative to spared primary forests. Sparing older secondary forests (15–30 years recovery) promotes substantial species, functional, and phylogenetic (birds only) diversity benefits for birds and dung beetles compared to land sharing. Species of conservation concern had higher occupancy estimates under land-sparing compared to land-sharing scenarios. Spared secondary forests accumulated equivalent diversity to primary forests for dung beetles within 15 years and within 15–30 years for birds, highlighting the need for longer term protection to maximize the biodiversity gains of secondary sparing. Promoting the recovery and protection of large expanses of secondary forests under the land-sparing model provides a critical mechanism for protecting tropical biodiversity, with important implications for concurrently assisting in the delivery of global targets to restore 350 million hectares of forested landscapes. Edwards et al. use landscape simulations from bird and dung beetle field data to reveal functional, phylogenetic, and species diversity benefits of secondary forest sparing outweigh land sharing. Sparing tracks of secondary forest recovers similar biodiversity to primary sparing in 15–30 years, assisting global restoration and conservation goals.
- South America
- ecosystem functioning
- forest and landscape restoration
- natural secondary regeneration
- tropical forest conservation