Growing food and fiber entails the use of fertilizer and irrigation systems and results in land clearing. These ‘side effects’ of agriculture can lead to regime shifts—or ‘tipping points’ which include desertification, salinisation, water degradation, and changes in climate due to altered water flows from land to atmosphere.
As human populations shift to more meat-heavy diets, trade of agricultural products increases, and demand for biofuels grows, the pressure on agricultural systems is mounting. The challenge is to figure out how to meet these demands and keep the ecosystem functions that underpin productivity working. So say researchers who will participate in a symposium, “Tipping points in the biosphere: Agriculture, water, and resilience” during the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting.
Tipping points occur when an ecosystem is overwhelmed by the demands placed on it and can no longer function the way it did before. In other words, it loses its resiliency which ultimately can lead to land that is rendered useless for growing crops.
Elena Bennett (McGill University), organizer of the symposium, says that we need to better understand large scale regime shifts in order to develop policies that sustain, rather than degrade, the very systems upon which humanity depends.
“One of the reasons agricultural landscapes are so prone to regime shifts is that our management of them has tended to focus exclusively on improving one type of ecosystem service (e.g. food production, fiber production, biofuels production) at the cost of all others,” explains Bennett.
She notes that agriculture is now one of the main driving forces of global environmental change. Bennett and other presenters in this session have identified potential tipping points related to water and agriculture that could have major global consequences.
No human activity has so large an impact on water systems as does agriculture, according to Johan Rockstrom (Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden). He notes that the future will bring an even greater demand on fresh water for food production—by 2050 global water use for food production alone will need to double.
Line Gordon (Stockholm University, Sweden) will examine the redistribution of vapor flows brought about by irrigation. Gordon notes that the pattern of change varies and identifies the mid-United States, the Amazon, the Sahel, India, and Northern China as the most likely areas to undergo climate change, driven by these altered continental vapor flows.
Ellen Marie Douglas (University of Massachusetts) will focus on potential impacts on India’s Monsoon Belt, home to a large part of the globe’s population. India has the largest irrigated agricultural area in the world, with more than 90 percent of the country’s water supporting irrigated agriculture. Vapor fluxes in India’s wet season are up by 7 percent and are up 55 percent in the dry season. Douglas and her colleagues attribute two-thirds of this change to irrigated agriculture.
Drawing from research examples in the Mississippi River, Simon Donner (Princeton University), will discuss the role of nitrogen fertilizer in the health of downstream ecosystems, in particular their potential sensitivity to climate change.
Navin Ramankutty (McGill University) likens land use changes to fuel emissions in their potential to drive climatic changes. According to Ramankutty, local land cover changes may very likely generate changes elsewhere by altering the general circulation of the atmosphere. He points to Canada, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Mexico, and Central America as places where land clearing for cultivation may have inadvertently decreased suitability for growing crops.
Brandon Bestelmeyer (USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range) will examine tipping points in rangelands and will explore various socio-economic factors contributing to rangeland degradation.
Others presenting at the session are Garry Peterson (McGill University), Lance Gunderson (Emory University), and Max Rietkerk (Utrecht University, The Netherlands).
“Our hope is that if we can identify potential regime shifts, we can alter our management to avoid them,” says session organizer Bennett.
Nadine Lymn | EurekAlert!
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
International network connects experimental research in European waters
21.03.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Medical Engineering
27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences