Overstory #21 - Agroforestry and Biological Diversity
Agroforestry plantings should not be considered a replacement for the conservation of native tropical forests, but agroforesters can play a key role in helping to conserve biological diversity (biodiversity) of species. Agroforestry plantings can provide expanded habitat for a wide range of species, from soil microlife to insects to mammals.
How much benefit can agroforestry plantings have for biodiversity? In Latin America, for instance, numerous studies have shown that the traditional coffee agroforests (coffee integrated with 2-5 other tree species) are second only to undisturbed tropical forests in their diversity of birds, insect life, bats, and even mammals. For example, The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center discovered at least 180 species of birds in Mexican coffee agroforests--up to ten times more than the bird diversity found in monoculture coffee plantations studied elsewhere. In the lowlands of Sumatra, resin-producing agroforests planted several generations ago are now some of the last reservoirs of biodiversity in the region, harboring rare epiphytes and herbs as well as 46 species of mammals, 92 species of birds, and much of the native soil fauna. (See references below for further reading.) Many effective conservation organizations now include agroforestry as a component of their programs.