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Permanent grasslands in Europe: Land use change and intensification decrease their multifunctionality

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Caroline Rhymer, Dr Richard Francksen, Professor Mark WhittinghamORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022 The Authors. Permanent grasslands cover 34% of the European Union's agricultural area and are vital for a wide variety of ecosystem services essential for our society. Over recent decades, the permanent grassland area has declined and land use change continues to threaten its extent. Simultaneously, the management intensity of permanent grasslands increased. We performed a systematic literature review on the multifunctionality of permanent grasslands in Europe, examining the effects of land use and management on 19 grassland ecosystem service indicators. Based on the evidence in 696 out of 70,456 screened papers, published since 1980, we found that both land use change and intensification of management decreased multifunctionality. In particular, preventing conversion of permanent grasslands to croplands secured the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. A lower management intensity was associated with benefits for biodiversity, climate regulation and water purification, but impacted the provision of high-quality animal feed. Increasing the number of species in the sward enhanced multifunctionality of permanent grassland without significant trade-offs such as losses in production. Our review covered many aspects of land use, management and ecosystem services, but we also identified areas with no or only few studies. The most prominent gaps were related to comparisons between permanent and temporary grasslands, and effects of management practices on the provision of cultural values, and on erosion and flood control. We suggest that, despite apparent changes in human dietary preferences, the protection of permanent grasslands in Europe must be prioritised. At the same time, considering the need to reduce ruminant livestock's contribution to climate change, the time seems ripe to increase support for low-intensity grassland management to optimise the provision of essential ecosystem services from Europe's permanent grasslands.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Schils RLM, Bufe C, Rhymer CM, Francksen RM, Klaus VH, Abdalla M, Milazzo F, Lellei-Kovacs E, Berge HT, Bertora C, Chodkiewicz A, Damatirca C, Feigenwinter I, Fernandez-Rebollo P, Ghiasi S, Hejduk S, Hiron M, Janicka M, Pellaton R, Smith KE, Thorman R, Vanwalleghem T, Williams J, Zavattaro L, Kampen J, Derkx R, Smith P, Whittingham MJ, Buchmann N, Price JPN

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment

Year: 2022

Volume: 330

Print publication date: 01/06/2022

Online publication date: 12/02/2022

Acceptance date: 31/01/2022

Date deposited: 10/03/2022

ISSN (print): 0167-8809

ISSN (electronic): 1873-2305

Publisher: Elsevier B.V.


DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2022.107891


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Funder referenceFunder name
774124Commission of the European Communities