Assessment of the relationships between agroecosystem condition and the ecosystem service soil erosion regulation in Northern Germany

PLoS One. 2020 Dec 7;15(12):e0234288. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234288. eCollection 2020.


Ecosystems provide multiple services that are necessary to maintain human life. Agroecosystems are very productive suppliers of biomass-related provisioning ecosystem services, e.g. food, fibre, and energy. At the same time, they are highly dependent on good ecosystem condition and regulating ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water supply or soil erosion regulation. Assessments of this interplay of ecosystem condition and services are needed to understand the relationships in highly managed systems. Therefore, the aim of this study is twofold: First, to test the concept and indicators proposed by the European Union Working Group on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES) for assessing agroecosystem condition at a regional level. Second, to identify the relationships between ecosystem condition and the delivery of ecosystem services. For this purpose, we applied an operational framework for integrated mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services. We used the proposed indicators to assess the condition of agroecosystems in Northern Germany and regulating ecosystem service control of erosion rates. We used existing data from official databases to calculate the different indicators and created maps of environmental pressures, ecosystem condition and ecosystem service indicators for the Federal State of Lower Saxony. Furthermore, we identified areas within the state where pressures are high, conditions are unfavourable, and more sustainable management practices are needed. Despite the limitations of the indicators and data availability, our results show positive, negative, and no significant correlations between the different pressures and condition indicators, and the control of erosion rates. The idea behind the MAES framework is to indicate the general condition of an ecosystem. However, we observed that not all proposed indicators can explain to what extent ecosystems can provide specific ecosystem services. Further research on other ecosystem services provided by agroecosystems would help to identify synergies and trade-offs. Moreover, the definition of a reference condition, although complicated for anthropogenically highly modified agroecosystems, would provide a benchmark to compare information on the condition of the ecosystems, leading to better land use policy and management decisions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / economics
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem
  • Food
  • Food Supply / methods
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Soil Erosion / statistics & numerical data*


  • Soil

Grant support

The publication of this article was funded by the Open Access Publishing Fund of Leibniz Universität Hannover.