In this second issue of the Compendium of Scientific and Practical Findings Supporting Eco-Restoration to Address Global Warming by Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (“Bio4Climate”), we focus on the pivotal roles of biodiversity and regenerative agriculture in stabilizing ecosystems and the climate. We review a selection of a large and growing trove of research demonstrating the relevance of biodiversity and regenerative agriculture for an effective response to the climate crisis.
We also include important and valuable information that is validated through land-management and other practice that has not yet appeared in peer-reviewed literature, which tends to be conservative and biased towards mainstream assumptions. We consider these practices “positive variants” which hold great promise in addressing current rapidly growing environmental crises, including global warming.
Biodiversity and regenerative agriculture represent fertile ground for finding solutions, and should therefore be in the forefront of public discourse. Yet despite mounting and compelling evidence of a link, the relationship between biodiversity and the climate is not necessarily intuitive, nor is the connection often made in mainstream news or in political negotiations. Even in the face of biodiversity collapse, we broadly fail to prioritize biodiversity, let alone consider it as a key factor in the search for solutions to the climate crisis.
With respect to agriculture, an interest in agriculture-based climate solutions is evident among scientists, and this interest appears to be reaching the political sphere as well. Yet there is an apparent reluctance to look outside the context of the current, export-oriented, input-intensive system of agriculture. Instead, there is an assumption that we can improve the conservation potential of agriculture while remaining within the current agricultural paradigm, under the pretext that high external inputs are needed to “feed the world.”
Indeed, agriculture is a linchpin issue for humanity. Our survival as a civilization depends on viable agriculture systems. However, input-intensive agriculture has given us false hopes about technology-aided yield potential, while at the same time diminishing the soil’s inherent ability to provide for plant health and nutrition in an era of increasingly harsh climatic conditions for crop and livestock production. Yet agricultural land, which covers some 40% of Earth’s land surface [Foley 2005], could be a source of planetary regeneration. Indeed, it appears to be ONLY through regenerative agriculture that we will be able to feed ourselves in the future, since high-input agriculture is ultimately a far more fragile system. Industrial agriculture is more vulnerable to weather extremes, pest invasions, and highly reliant on increasingly scarce and expensive external inputs.
The purpose of this Compendium, and of Bio4Climate’s approach overall, is to assemble and showcase solutions to global warming that are largely already known, all of them rooted in ecosystem restoration. Since studies demonstrating the power of biological processes, biodiversity, and intact ecosystems to restore balance to the climate system are dispersed across multiple disciplines that may often be unaware of one another’s work, we attempt to shed light on such relationships and consider the climate crisis in a complex systems framework.
Understanding the planet as a complex system, encompassing myriad living and non-living subsystems, opens up our awareness to the interdependence among seemingly unrelated processes, and to the possibility of indirect and cascading effects and abrupt changes. It helps us to accept and appreciate the vast complexity of billions of simultaneous processes that cannot be fully controlled, and yet also to recognize the patterns that restore balance to the systems sustaining human life (such as how protected and revived soil accumulates carbon and water that would otherwise be in the atmosphere or ocean. See Appendix B for further discussion of a systems approach to climate change.)
At the same time, these ecosystem approaches will be successful only if they are actually undertaken and replicated systematically, the world over. Therefore, it behooves us to contemplate the urgency of the crisis before us. The positive feedbacks in climate, as witnessed by the dramatic accelerations of weather crises and many environmental degradations such as extinctions (including the unprecedented disappearance of insects), plankton loss, and disrupted timing of lifecycles and species migrations, raise such alarm that even while focusing on promising solutions, we must fully acknowledge our current dire situation. (See Appendix A for further discussion of current urgencies.)
The articles featured in this Compendium reveal the power of ecosystem properties and processes, when protected from human hyper-exploitation, to restore life and health to human society and to many other organisms upon whose wellbeing we are entirely dependent. Specifically, the effect of biodiversity at various taxonomic levels on ecosystem productivity rivals that of abiotic factors [Weigelt 2009, Duffy 2017, Lehmann 2017, Sobral 2017]. Furthermore, often-overlooked groups of species play major roles in ecosystems. Notably, fungi are associated with high soil carbon content and productivity, and with phosphorus cycling [Bailey 2002, Johnson 2017, Berthold 2016, Mills 2017].
In fact, there is poor understanding of the phosphorus cycle unless you include the work of the fungi. Mark McMenamin, who spoke at Bio4Climate’s Oceans Conference in 2016, wonders why land has perhaps 100 times the biomass and triple the productivity compared to the oceans [McMenamin 2016]. His theory, “Hypersea” [McMenamin 1996] proposes that high productivity on land is a result of the ways biodiversity creates “upwellings,“ which bring up essential minerals and water, often from deep in rocky soils, to facilitate photosynthesis. Fungi retrieve micronutrients for plants in exchange for the energy provided by the glucose produced by green plants.
In the ocean, phosphorus is available if there are upwellings from the bottom by winds, seamounts or currents. Phosphorus, nitrogen and other minerals are rapidly consumed by algae and if they are not replenished regularly then algae growth stops. The ocean is largely an “aqueous desert” because movement of nutrients to the surface from the deeper ocean is relatively rare.
Thus, Hypersea is about upwelling of nutrients. High productivity on land is because of fungi – plant symbioses. But human chemical agriculture has interrupted this system. By adding enormous amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium at great expense, we have temporarily increased crop yields. However, these inputs cause bacteria populations to multiply and consume the mycorrhizal fungi networks. Because of this, nutrient flow from deep in the soil slows or stops.
Yet, to the extent that humans are capable of disrupting phosphorus, nitrogen, carbon, water and other cycles that are at once driven by and sustaining of Earth’s biosphere, we are also capable of acting to repair these cycles as Trant  and Treuer  illustrate – ancient and modern peoples alike have improved ecosystem productivity by composting food wastes, for example.
The books Drawdown and Geotherapy similarly offer a wealth of specific, proven and practical steps for restabilizing the climate. “Humanity has the means at hand. Nothing new needs to be invented. The solutions are in place and in action. Our work is to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible” [Hawken 2017]. Indeed, illuminating that picture of what is possible is the purpose of this Compendium.
Bailey, VL, JL Smith & H Bolton Jr, 2002, Fungal to bacterial ratios in soils investigated for enhanced C-sequestration, Soil Biology and Biochemistry 34, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0038071702000330.
Berthold, Tom, et al, 2016, Mycelia as a focal point for horizontal gene transfer among soil bacteria, Scientific Reports 6, http://www.nature.com/srep/2016/161104/srep36390/full/srep36390.html
Duffy, J. Emmett, et al, 2017, Biodiversity effects in the wild are common and as strong as key drivers of productivity, Nature 549, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v549/n7671/full/nature23886.html
Foley, Jonathan A., et al, 2005, Global consequences of land use, Science 309, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/309/5734/570.
Hawken, Paul, Ed., 2017, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, Penguin Books, http://www.drawdown.org/.
Johnson, David, 2017, Regenerating the Diversity of Life in our Soils – Hope for Farming and Climate, https://youtu.be/neIIPRRnXQQ; and Soils Beneath Our Feet: Can Regenerative Agriculture and Healthy Soils Help Combat Climate Change, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlB4QSEMzdg.
Lehmann, Annika, Weishuang Zheng & Matthias C. Rillig, 2017, Soil biota contributions to soil aggregation, Nature Ecology and Evolution, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-017-0344-y.
McMenamin, Mark and McMenamin, Dianna, 1996, Hypersea: Life on Land, Columbia University Press.
McMenamin, Mark, 2016, From Sea to Land to Sea: What It Means to Live and Evolve in One, the Other or Both, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate Oceans Conference, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRGWAr7R3tw.
Mills, Benjamin J.W., Sarah A. Batterman and Katie J. Field, 2017, Nutrient acquisition by symbiotic fungi governs Paleozoic climate transition, Philosophical Transactions Royal Society B 373: 20160503, http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/373/1739/20160503.
Sobral, Mar, et al, 2017, Mammal diversity influences the carbon cycle through trophic interactions in the Amazon, Nature Ecology and Evolution, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-017-0334-0.
Weigelt, A., et al, 2009, Biodiversity for multifunctional grasslands: equal productivity in high-diversity low-input and low-diversity high-input systems, Biogeosciences 6:1695–1706, www.biogeosciences.net/6/1695/2009.
 For further discussion of peer review, see this Compendium, Vol 1 No 1, Appendix A, Perils of Peer Review, https://bio4climate.org/wp-content/uploads/Compendium-Vol-1-No-1-July-2017-Biodiversity-for-a-Livable-Climate-1.pdf.
 A positive feedback loop is a process that, once initiated, sustains or amplifies itself. For example, Arctic summer ice melting due to warmer global temperatures exposes dark water to sunlight, which warms the water further thereby melting more ice, until eventually all the summer ice is gone. The result is a profound disruption of global weather patterns.
 Phosphorus is essential to make DNA, RNA, and the energy carrier molecule ATP, which is essential to many enzymatic reactions in all cells.