Promoting biodiversity values of small forest patches in agricultural landscapes: Ecological drivers and social demand

Small forest patches embedded in agricultural (and peri-urban) landscapes in Western Europe play a key role for biodiversity conservation with a recognized capacity of delivering a wide suite of ecosystem services. Measures aimed to preserve these patches should be both socially desirable and ecologically effective. This study presents a joint ecologic and economic assessment conducted on small forest patches in Flanders (Belgium) and Picardie (N France). In each study region, two contrasted types of agricultural landscapes were selected. Open field (OF) and Bocage (B) landscapes are distinguished by the intensity of their usage and higher connectivity in the B landscapes. The social demand for enhancing biodiversity and forest structure diversity as well as for increasing the forest area at the expenses of agricultural land is estimated through an economic valuation survey. These results are compared with the outcomes of an ecological survey where the influence of structural features of the forest patches on the associated herbaceous diversity is assessed. The ecological and economic surveys show contrasting results; increasing tree species richness is ecologically more important for herbaceous diversity in the patch, but both tree species richness and herbaceous diversity obtain insignificant willingness to pay estimates. Furthermore, although respondents prefer the proposed changes to take place in the region where they live, we find out that social preferences and ecological effectiveness do differ between landscapes that represent different intensities of land use. Dwellers where the landscape is perceived as more "degraded" attach more value to diversity enhancement, suggesting a prioritization of initiatives in these area. In contrast, the ecological analyses show that prioritizing the protection and enhancement of the relatively better-off areas is more ecologically effective. Our study calls for a balance between ecological effectiveness and welfare benefits, suggesting that cost effectiveness studies should consider these approaches jointly. (C) 2017 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.