Biodiversity and yield trade-offs for organic farming

Shanxing Gong, Jenny A. Hodgson, Teja Tscharntke, Yunhui Liu, Wopke van der Werf, Péter Batáry, Johannes M.H. Knops, Yi Zou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Organic farming supports higher biodiversity than conventional farming, but at the cost of lower yields. We conducted a meta-analysis quantifying the trade-off between biodiversity and yield, comparing conventional and organic farming. We developed a compatibility index to assess whether biodiversity gains from organic farming exceed yield losses, and a substitution index to assess whether organic farming would increase biodiversity in an area if maintaining total production under organic farming would require cultivating more land at the expense of nature. Overall, organic farming had 23% gain in biodiversity with a similar cost of yield decline. Biodiversity gain is negatively correlated to yield loss for microbes and plants, but no correlation was found for other taxa. The biodiversity and yield trade-off varies under different contexts of organic farming. The overall compatibility index value was close to zero, with negative values for cereal crops, positive for non-cereal crops, and varies across taxa. Our results indicate that, on average, the proportion of biodiversity gain is similar to the proportion of yield loss for paired field studies. For some taxa in non-cereal crops, switching to organic farming can lead to a biodiversity gain without yield loss. We calculated the overall value of substitution index and further discussed the application of this index to evaluate when the biodiversity of less intensified farming system is advantageous.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1699-1710
Number of pages12
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • cereal
  • compatibility index
  • land-use intensification
  • meta-analysis
  • non-cereal
  • substitution index


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