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Diversifying crops may protect yields against a more variable climate

Recommendations could suppress pest and pathogen outbreaks and benefit farmers economically

A survey of how farmers could protect themselves by growing a greater diversity of crops, published in the March issue of BioScience, has highlighted economical steps that farmers could take to minimize the threat to crops from global climate change, including a greater frequency of extreme climate events.

Adaptation to ongoing climate change is considered a policy priority for agriculture. The survey, by Brenda B. Lin of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, documents multiple instances of farmers protecting economically important crops, such as rice and other cereals, alfalfa, and coffee, from outbreaks of pests and disease, often associated with climate change, or simply from changed physical conditions. The farmers succeeded by switching from growing a single variety of crop to growing a broader range of species or varieties, either at the same time or in rotation, or by introducing structural variety into uniform fields.

Such techniques work, in general, because they make it harder for pathogens and pests to spread, and they may modulate climate extremes the crops experience. Not all attempts at agricultural diversification lead to such benefits, Lin points out. Yet increasingly, farmers have access to crop modeling techniques that can evaluate when a given adaptation technique might provide an economic benefit. Because accurate modeling requires extensive knowledge of on-the-ground data, such as soil profiles for water and nutrients, Lin argues for the development of extension and research staff who can assist farmers in gaining the information they need to use modeling techniques for adaptation.

After noon EST on 1 March and for the remainder of the month, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this Press Release available at

BioScience, published monthly, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the March 2011 issue of BioScience is as follows:

Resilience in Agriculture through Crop Diversification: Adaptive Management for Environmental Change by Brenda B. Lin

The Challenges of Integrating Oxidative Stress into Life-history Biology by Caroline Isaksson, Ben C. Sheldon, and Tobias Uller

Soundscape Ecology: The Science of Sound in the Landscape by Bryan C. Pijanowski, Luis J. Villanueva-Rivera, Sarah L. Dumyahn, Almo Farina, Bernie L. Krause, Brian M. Napoletano, Stuart H. Gage, and Nadia Pieretti

Tracking the Oxidative and Nonoxidative Fates of Isotopically Labeled Nutrients in Animals by Marshall D. McCue

Media Literacy as a Key Strategy toward Improving Public Acceptance of Climate Change Science by Caren B. Cooper

Tim Beardsley | EurekAlert!
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