New study highlights importance of ecological principles in agriculture

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05 May 2022, UK: A Hutton scientific study summarising six years of agricultural research undertaken for the Scottish Government highlights the impact of the use of ecological principles in agriculture on sustainability, resilience, and provision of ecosystem functions.

The synthesis demonstrates that diversification of agricultural systems can enhance a wide range of important ecosystem functions including, critically, greater resilience to abiotic and biotic stress.

Soil and plant management interventions, such as reduced tillage and reduced fertiliser inputs, can also enhance soil quality and utilisation of legacy nutrients accumulated in soils over generations.

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Furthermore, this is facilitated by improved soil function through greater reliance on soil biological processes and trophic interactions than on chemical inputs and physical soil interventions.

Dr Tim George, a researcher based within the Institute’s Ecological Sciences department and lead author of the study, said: “To achieve the triple challenge of food security, reversing biodiversity declines plus mitigating and adapting to climate change, there is a drive to embed ecological principles into agricultural and value-chain practices and decisions.

“By diversifying cropping systems at several scales there is potential to decrease reliance on inputs, provide resilience to abiotic and biotic stress, enhance plant, microbe, and animal biodiversity, and mitigate against climate change by using less fuel and storing more carbon in soils.”

The article concludes that there are many effective interventions, including incorporation of legumes into systems, that can be made to deliver resilient, sustainable and diverse agroecosystems for crop and food production.

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