Purdue Climate Change Research Center

The role of land use and management in maximizing conservation biocontrol and carbon sequestration in agroecosystems

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture

Natural areas in agroecosystems provide important ecosystem services to agriculture and society. In the Midwest, however, there are few patches of native grassland left to provide services: tallgrass prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America, with less than one percent of its original extent remaining. The leading cause for prairie loss has been conversion of this productive system to row crop agriculture, primarily corn and soybean production. As demand for biofuel crops increases and as land is converted to other uses such as roads and housing, some of the remaining patches of prairie and semi-natural land will undoubtedly disappear. Loss of these natural areas would cause direct and substantial reductions of associated ecosystem services. Two of the more valuable services provided by the grassland patches in agricultural landscapes are climate regulation through carbon sequestration and pest control via support of natural enemy populations. We will examine how soil organic carbon (SOC) and natural enemies of soybean aphids vary across seven land management regimes in northwestern Indiana. These include remnant prairie preserves, high diversity grassland plantings, two types of USDA grassland plantings (moderate and low diversity), and soybean fields under three pest management treatments. These comparisons will show how pest management strategies, grassland plant composition, and land use affect natural enemy abundance and carbon sequestration. We will use our field-collected data to parameterize a model that will estimate the supply of biocontrol services across the larger agricultural landscape.

We will use the spatial relationships identified in our fieldwork and in the landscape model to quantify economic benefits of ecosystem services in the same landscape. By documenting the dynamics and economic value of two primary ecosystem services provided by natural areas in Midwestern agroecosystems, these values can be incorporated into economic decisions regarding land use and management. Spatially explicit economic analysis and online decision support tools produced in this project will enable farmers, resource managers, and policy makers to better understand ecosystem functions and optimizing services, including the response of these systems to soybean pest management, changing land use, and effects of invasive species. With this understanding, decision makers can have an informed scientific basis for managing agricultural lands and develop strategies to continue to optimize ecosystem services. Policy makers within USDA who make decisions regarding payment for conservation practices may consider these important ecosystem services in their payment structure. Farmers may be motivated by this knowledge and through new compensation pricing to change pest management in a way that reduces pesticides or may chose to enroll in a conservation practice that will contribute to carbon sequestration and biocontrol services. Taken as a whole, these actions can increase complexity and connectivity in the landscape that is important not only for natural enemies, but for many other species.


  • Helen Rowe
  • Jeff Holland
  • Ben Gramig
  • Jeff Dukes
  • Joe Fargione - The Nature Conservancy

Contact Information

Purdue University
203 S. Martin Jischke Drive
MANN 105
West Lafayette, IN 47907