Ecosystem services from small forest fragments in agricultural landscapes
In Europe, like in many temperate lowlands worldwide, forest has a long history of fragmentation and land use change. In many places, forest landscapes consist of patches of different quality, age, size and isolation, embedded in a more or less intensively managed agricultural matrix. As potential biodiversity islets, small forest patches (SFP) may deliver several crucial ecosystem services to human society, but they receive little attention compared to large, relatively intact forest patches. Beyond their role as a biodiversity reservoir, SFP provide important in situ services such as timber and wild food (game, edible plants and mushrooms) production. At the landscape scale, SFP may enhance the crop production via physical (obstacle against wind and floods) and biological (sources of pollinators and natural enemies) regulation, but may, on the other hand, also be involved in the spread of infectious diseases. Depending on their geographic location, SFP can also greatly influence the water cycle and contribute to supply high-quality water to agriculture and people.
Globally, SFP are important carbon sinks and are involved in nutrient cycles, thus play a role in climate change mitigation. Cultural services are more related to landscape values than to SFP per se, but the latter may contribute to the construction of community identity. We conclude that SFP, as local biodiversity hotspots in degraded landscapes, have the potential to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and may even be crucial for the ecological intensification of agroecosystems. There is thus an urgent need to increase our knowledge about the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services delivered by these SFP in agricultural landscapes.