Use of agricultural land by breeding waders in low-intensity farming landscapes

L. Johannesdottir, J. A. Alves, J. A. Gill, T. G. Gunnarsson

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Agriculture is one of the primary threats to biodiversity but agricultural land can also provide key resources for many species and, in some parts of the world, agricultural land supports important populations of species of conservation concern. In these cases, it is important to understand species’ use of agricultural land before further expansion or intensification of agricultural activities occurs. Agriculture in Iceland is still relatively low in intensity and extent, and internationally important populations of several breeding bird species are abundant in farmed regions. In these high latitude landscapes, agricultural land could provide resources that help to support these species, and the consequences of future agricultural expansion will depend on the nature of these relationships. To address these issues, we conducted surveys of bird abundance at 64 farms in areas of Iceland that vary in underlying soil productivity, and quantified (a) levels of breeding bird use of farmed land managed at three differing intensities, ranging from cultivated fields to semi-natural land and (b) changes in patterns of use throughout the breeding season, for an assemblage of species. Breeding birds use all three land management types in large numbers but, overall, bird abundance is lower in more intensively managed farm land. However, more intensively managed agricultural land supports higher densities of birds than semi-natural habitats in areas with lower underlying productivity. This suggests that in landscapes in which agricultural land does not yet dominate, conservation and commercial production can co-exist, especially in areas of low productivity. Areas like Iceland, in which agricultural land still supports large populations of internationally important species, are rare and this study highlights the need to protect these systems from the agricultural development that has led to widespread biodiversity loss throughout most of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-301
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number4
Early online date21 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • agricultural land
  • Iceland
  • land management
  • shorebirds
  • Sub-Arctic
  • waders
  • bird surveys

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