The loss of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes has been dramatic over the past few decades with negative trends persisting. Organic farming has received widespread recognition in the scientific and politic fields for its environmental benefits, although the proportion of land cultivated organically is still small and the extent to which organic farming contributes to the promotion of biodiversity is viewed controversially. We present a critical, quantitative review of 98 mainly peer-reviewed papers selected from 801 studies in temperate climate zones published over the period 1990–2017. We quantified differences in the species richness and abundance of selected flora and fauna groups. In total, 474 pairwise comparisons that compared organic and conventional farming systems were considered. Overall, organic farming showed higher species richness or abundance in 58% of the pairs. No differences were found for 38%, 4% indicated negative effects from organic farming. The average (median) species numbers of flora on arable land were 95% higher under organic management as well as 61% higher for seedbank and 21% higher for field margin vegetation. For field birds, the species richness was 35%, and the abundance was 24% higher in organic farming; for insects, the corresponding values are 22% and 36% and for spiders 15% and 55%. Our study underlines that organic farming can play an effective role in acting against the loss of biodiversity. Future research should focus on the combined effects of landscape structures and organic farming, the effect of large-scale organic farming, as well as on the correlation of species diversity and production parameters. To meet the systems’ representativeness, even more strict selection criteria need to be applied in further analysis.


Stein-Bachinger, K., Gottwald, F., Haub, A., Schmidt E.