Two University of Toronto Scarborough scientists have developed a new research framework for the agricultural sector that offers evidence-based understanding of the relationship between short-term yields, long-term sustainability and biodiversity.
In a paper published this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Marney Isaac, Canada Research Chair in Agroecosystems and Development and her co-author Adam Martin, describe how an approach known as "functional trait-based ecology" can apply to agricultural research and management. Rather than analyzing genetics or measuring yields, functional-trait research focuses on how plants both respond to and affect changes to their environment.
"Historically, the way we try to understand how crop diversity influences yield and the environment has been limited," says Isaac. "We propose a rigorous approach rooted in ecological science to measure agricultural impacts."
Isaac and Martin's framework can help answer many questions like: How do certain species cycle nutrients? Can they repel certain pests? Do they mitigate the effects of drought?
"Environmental changes and agricultural practices can affect the size of crops, their leaf and root characteristics, and their reproductive patterns," says Isaac. "Trait-based approaches tell us about the causes and consequences of these changes - not just in terms of yield, but also in terms of how crops interact with other plants, insects, microbes, and their surrounding environment."
In other ecological contexts, functional-trait research has a long and successful track record, but it is only just starting to find purchase in agriculture.
"Trait-based studies have been instrumental in advancing our understanding of ecological patterns in natural and experimental ecosystems," says Martin. "We wanted to create a blueprint for applying this approach to agricultural systems."
"Commodity crops often result in heavily intensified monocultures where you have just one crop species covering a whole plot of land," says Martin. "Monocultures can result in terrible environmental conditions, but they tend to maximize yield."
Monocultures can be more vulnerable and less resilient to drought, disease, invasive species and herbivorous pests. But an effort solely aimed at increasing species diversity might not solve the problem. The authors cite the example of coffee plantations, which can become "Rainforest Alliance Certified" if they diversify sufficiently.
"You may have 15 different tree species and three crop species on your farm," says Martin. "This is a great start, but functional ecology could improve such certifications. Our framework can provide data about how to choose species that play complementary roles that better foster resilience and sustainability."
Martin and Isaac hope their framework will help researchers consolidate functional-trait data about the world's most common crops.
"Once consolidated, we expect this data can help us better understand how agro-ecosystems function, and ideally inform sustainable agricultural management strategies," says Isaac.
Funding for this research comes from Isaac's Canada Research Chair as well as from a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Don Campbell | EurekAlert!
Colorectal cancer risk factors decrypted
13.07.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung
Algae Have Land Genes
13.07.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
13.07.2018 | Life Sciences