Virtual Issue: Applied Ecology in Agricultural Systems

Edited by John Finn
December 2013

Agriculture is an important global human enterprise that exerts a major influence on ecosystems. Even as we work to understand and better manage biodiversity and ecosystem functioning within agri-ecosystems, both agriculture and the global context in which it operates are undergoing major change. The natural environment is increasingly threatened, resources are becoming scarcer, the human population is growing, human diets are changing, and climate change is exerting its influence. The effort to supply the growing demand for food and to improve food security will require agricultural systems that are more productive, more resource-efficient, more resilient, and more environmentally sustainable (among other things). In addition to improving the transfer of a substantial body of existing knowledge, new science and innovative management will be required to address this combination of challenges.

Journal of Applied Ecology aims to support this process by publishing applied science and evidence-based management from ecological studies in agricultural systems and landscapes. Here, we have compiled a Virtual Issue on applied ecology in agricultural systems, selecting twenty-three articles that have been published in this journal over the last five years. These articles encompass three broad themes, although there is substantial overlap. The first theme “Ecological science in support of sustainable food production systems” presents case studies with insights into the practical achievement of sustainable intensification. The second theme “Ecosystem function in agricultural systems” recognises that agricultural systems do not just provide a harvest, but also supply, and are reliant on, a range of ecosystem functions and services. For this theme, selected articles address decomposition, weed and pest invasion, biological control and pollination. The third theme “Conservation ecology in agricultural systems and agri-environment schemes” relates to topics in which Journal of Applied Ecology plays a leading role. This selection of articles highlights issues for the next-generation design of agri-environment schemes, and provides examples of applied ecological issues that encompass extensively to intensively managed systems.

Looking to the future, there remains a strong role for ecologists to continue contributing to the development of sustainable agricultural systems. The transfer of both knowledge and technology to practitioners and policymakers is an important function and, in addition to research articles, the publication of reviews (four of which are featured in this Virtual Issue) will be an effective method to help achieve this. There is currently a surge in interest by food producers and retailers in the farm-scale measurement of sustainability, with a view to product labeling and marketing. Although this topic has received much attention in the past, we look forward to future articles on assessments of farmland sustainability that incorporate ecosystem processes and biodiversity, to improve and ensure their prominence in such initiatives. The sustainable intensification agenda will present many research challenges and opportunities. The future will not be the same as the past, and changed agricultural systems will not simply require assessments of consequences, but will need to be best designed to simultaneously address production, nutrient efficiency, biodiversity, ecosystem services and cost-effectiveness.

The articles in this Virtual Issue are intended to provide examples of applied ecology in agricultural ecosystems and landscapes from around the globe. We hope they will be of interest to a variety of stakeholders engaging in the challenge to feed the population in a changing world while ensuring the provision of ecosystem functions and services, and the conservation of biodiversity both within and adjacent to agricultural ecosystems.

Ecological science in support of sustainable food production systems

Nutrient stripping: the global disparity between food security and soil nutrient stocks
Jones, DL; Cross, P; Withers, PJA; DeLuca, TH; Robinson, DA; Quilliam, RS; Harris, IM; Chadwick, DR; Edwards-Jones, G

Strong mixture effects among four species in fertilized agricultural grassland led to persistent and consistent transgressive overyielding
Nyfeler, D., Huguenin-Elie, O., Suter, M., Frossard, E., Connolly, J. and Lüscher, A.

Landscape simplification and altitude affect biodiversity, herbivory and Andean potato yield
Poveda, K; Martinez, E; Kersch-Becker, MF; Bonilla, MA; Tscharntke, T

Ecosystem function enhanced by combining four functional types of plant species in intensively managed grassland mixtures: a 3-year continental-scale field experiment
Finn, JA; Kirwan, L; Connolly, J; Sebastia, MT; Helgadottir, A; Baadshaug, OH; Belanger, G; Black, A; Brophy, C; Collins, RP; Cop, J; Dalmannsdottir, S; Delgado, I; Elgersma, A; Fothergill, M; Frankow-Lindberg, BE; Ghesquiere, A; Golinska, B; Golinski, P; Grieu, P; Gustavsson, AM; Hoglind, M; Huguenin-Elie, O; Jorgensen, M; Kadziuliene, Z; Kurki, P; Llurba, R; Lunnan, T; Porqueddu, C; Suter, M; Thumm, U; Luscher, A

Wild pollination services to California almond rely on semi-natural habitat
Klein, AM; Brittain, C; Hendrix, SD; Thorp, R; Williams, N; Kremen, C

Geographical variation in carbon dioxide fluxes from soils in agro-ecosystems and its implications for life-cycle assessment
Koerber, G. R., Edwards-Jones, G., Hill, P. W., Canals, L. M. i., Nyeko, P., York, E. H. and Jones, D. L.

Creating patches of native flowers facilitates crop pollination in large agricultural fields: mango as a case study
Carvalheiro, LG; Seymour, CL; Nicolson, SW; Veldtman, R

Multifunctional shade-tree management in tropical agroforestry landscapes - a review
Tscharntke, T; Clough, Y; Bhagwat, SA; Buchori, D; Faust, H; Hertel, D; Holscher, D; Juhrbandt, J; Kessler, M; Perfecto, I; Scherber, C; Schroth, G; Veldkamp, E; Wanger, TC

Ecosystem function in agricultural systems

An overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides
Goulson, D

Managing ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation in agricultural landscapes: are the solutions the same?
Macfadyen, S; Cunningham, SA; Costamagna, AC; Schellhorn, NA

Species-rich dung beetle communities buffer ecosystem services in perturbed agro-ecosystems
Beynon, SA; Mann, DJ; Slade, EM; Lewis, OT

Effects of predator specialization, host plant and climate on biological control of aphids by natural enemies: a meta-analysis
Diehl, E; Sereda, E; Wolters, V; Birkhofer, K

Oilseed rape crops distort plant-pollinator interactions
Diekotter, T; Kadoya, T; Peter, F; Wolters, V; Jauker, F

Global estimation of invasion risk zones for the western corn rootworm Diabrotica virgifera virgifera: integrating distribution models and physiological thresholds to assess climatic favourability
Aragon, P; Baselga, A; Lobo, JM

Interacting effects of management and environmental variability at multiple scales on invasive species distributions
Diez, J. M., Buckley, H. L., Case, B. S., Harsch, M. A., Sciligo, A. R., Wangen, S. R. and Duncan, R. P.

Conservation ecology in agricultural systems and agri-environment schemes

Landscape-scale conservation: collaborative agri-environment schemes could benefit both biodiversity and ecosystem services, but will farmers be willing to participate?
McKenzie, AJ; Emery, SB; Franks, JR; Whittingham, MJ

Interactive effects of landscape context constrain the effectiveness of local agri-environmental management
Concepcion, ED; Diaz, M; Kleijn, D; Baldi, A; Batary, P; Clough, Y; Gabriel, D; Herzog, F; Holzschuh, A; Knop, E; Marshall, EJP; Tscharntke, T; Verhulst, J

Landscape-scale responses of birds to agri-environment management: a test of the English Environmental Stewardship scheme
Baker, DJ; Freeman, SN; Grice, PV; Siriwardena, GM

Should payments for biodiversity conservation be based on action or results?
Gibbons, JM; Nicholson, E; Milner-Gulland, EJ; Jones, JPG

Low-intensity agriculture increases farmland bird abundances in France
Doxa, A; Bas, Y; Paracchini, ML; Pointereau, P; Terres, JM; Jiguet, F

Combining multi-scale socio-ecological approaches to understand the susceptibility of subsistence farmers to elephant crop raiding on the edge of a protected area
Guerbois, C; Chapanda, E; Fritz, H

Effects of habitat amount and isolation on biodiversity in fragmented traditional orchards
Bailey, D; Schmidt-Entling, MH; Eberhart, P; Herrmann, JD; Hofer, G; Kormann, U; Herzog, F

The effectiveness of agri-environment schemes for the conservation of farmland moths: assessing the importance of a landscape-scale management approach
Fuentes-Montemayor, E; Goulson, D; Park, KJ

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