FEATURE ARTICLE: BIODIVERSITY
One of the strengths of the SEEA framework is the ability to link economic, social and environmental data and present these measures together in an accounting format. However, accounting for the variable components of biodiversity is complex and less advanced than for example water or carbon accounting.
While the SEEA AFF does not include a discrete domain for biodiversity at this stage, the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting (EEA) includes a section on 'Accounting for Biodiversity’ (section 4.5, page 96). Section 4.109 is of particular interest to SEEA AFF: ‘Species that provide regulating ecosystem services, such as ... bees (pollination) can also be linked to biodiversity and land cover accounts.’ This provides an obvious and significant link between biodiversity and the agricultural industry, and as such this discussion paper presents this article to explore this.
SEEA EEA defines biodiversity as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part, this includes diversity within species, between species and ecosystems’ (section 2.7, page 18). The scientific community has conceptualised biodiversity as a hierarchy of genes, species and ecosystems.
Biodiversity plays an essential role in supporting human well-being through maintaining functioning ecosystems that in turn delivers essential services such as food and the regulation of our climate, as well as other benefits such as aesthetic enjoyment of natural landscapes.
Biodiversity is one example of a domain that has a significant effect on the agricultural industry. Available data and research indicates that risk awareness and management of links between biodiversity and crop yields are required for agricultural security. Below is an illustration of the way that SEEA compliant indicators and accounts can extend SEEA AFF to examine key conditional issues for the industry.
POLLINATION AND CROPS
Biodiversity plays a significant role in providing commercial crop pollination services, insectivore pest control services and overall agricultural security. As an example, many of the food crops we grow and harvest in Australia are reliant on pollinators, and insectivores contribute to vastly reducing pests. Australia therefore needs to focus attention to how our pollinators and insectivores are faring in our agricultural landscapes if we want to ensure a healthy, viable future for our food crops.
Pollination is vital for most food crops and some crops are entirely dependent on pollinator services to be commercially viable. For other crops, it is preferable to have pollinator services but not crucial to production, while others instead rely on the wind for pollination. Grasses like wheat and sugar cane are all wind-pollinated, while fruits and nuts rely on pollinators.
Currently, the European Honeybee (Apis mellifera) is the best-known and dominant pollinator for our food crops reliant upon insect pollinators. For figures on the number of beehives and beekeepers in Australia, please refer to Table 1 below.
TABLE 1. NUMBER OF BEEKEEPERS AND BEEHIVES, by state, 2013-14
No. of beekeepers
% of beekeepers
No. of hives
% of hives
Beekeepers with 50 or more hives
|Source: State Department of Primary Industries, BeeAware|
However, there are challenges for the agricultural industry around biodiversity security. For example, Australian agriculture may require different pollinator options in the event that European Honeybee colonies collapse due to the parasitic Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor). This has occurred overseas and is predicted by some experts to happen in Australia. It is therefore important to determine not just which native pollinators are able to fill a pollinator vacuum, but crucially which crops will they be able to pollinate, and to what degree.
An example of the types of food crops known or likely to be pollinated by native pollinators is provided in Table 2 below. Not just native bees are important as pollinators, but also flies, beetles, butterflies, wasps and other organisms.
Insectivorous birds and bats also provide important services for the pest control of insects which attack food crops. The key insectivores which prey on pest insects on farms in Australia are birds and bats. These insectivores can be very effective at controlling damaging pests on valuable food crops, and provide services estimated to be millions of dollars.
Overall, it would appear that the best outcome for retaining a healthy community of a diverse assemblage of both native pollinators and insectivores is to retain and nurture a mosaic of native vegetation (habitat) in the agricultural landscape.
Further work will occur to link this type of biodiversity information to the SEEA AFF accounts. For example, what relationship exists between a drop in pollinators and the gross value of production for particular crops? This type of linkage between the economic and the bio-physical can occur within environmental-accounts to answer key policy questions.
An example of NRM level biodiversity measures have been included in the accompanying South Australian Murray-Darling Basin and Burnett Mary feature articles.