Integrated European
Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and
socio-ecological Research

Trade-offs and potentials of agroforestry in the LTSER platform Eisenwurzen, Austria

20 July 2022

In the Austrian Eisenwurzen, cultivation of local fruit tree varieties in traditional meadow orchards was an historically important type of land use. While today, this practice is still part of the region’s cultural identity and an important tourism asset, meadow orchards and their many ecological benefits disappeared from most European cultural landscapes during industrialization. In the course of combating climate change and biodiversity loss, however, there has been a renewed focus on agroforestry as a multi-functional and sustainable form of land use.

Implementing agroforestry systems on the landscape-scale nevertheless comes with trade-offs between different ecosystem services. In this study, we quantified in particular the potential effects of agroforestry on carbon sequestration and biomass provision. In doing so, we integrated data from the agent-based land-use model SECLAND and the biophysical agroforestry model YieldSAFE, and applied the socio-ecological indicator framework HANPP to calculate the carbon dynamics of a hypothetical future agroforestry scenario.

Results indicate that transitioning to agroforestry in the Eisenwurzen would strongly relieve the agroecosystem from human-induced pressure and create a substantial carbon sink, but would also result in significant trade-offs with biomass provision. We conclude that harvest losses may inhibit large-scale implementation, in particular on highly productive grass- and croplands. On extensively managed plots and marginal lands, however, trade-offs are minimized and agroforestry constitutes an attractive addition to sustainable land-use policy.

Bertsch-Hoermann, B., Egger, C., Gaube, V., Gingrich, S. Agroforestry tradeoffs between biomass provision and aboveground carbon sequestration in the alpine Eisenwurzen region, Austria. Reg Environ Change 21, 77 (2021).

Photo: Traditional meadow orchard in the alpine Eisenwurzen region © Naturund Geopark Steirische Eisenwurzen