Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ecological knowledge offers perspectives for sustainable agriculture

Date:
April 29, 2013
Source:
Wageningen University and Research Centre
Summary:
A smart combination of different crops, such as beans and maize, can significantly cut the use of crop protection agents and at the same time reduce the need for fertilizers. Integrating ecological knowledge from nature with knowledge of crops opens up the prospect of a sustainable strategy that will increase yield per hectare at reduced environmental costs.

A smart combination of different crops, such as beans and maize, can significantly cut the use of crop protection agents and at the same time reduce the need for fertilizers. Integrating ecological knowledge from nature with knowledge of crops opens up the prospect of a sustainable strategy that will increase yield per hectare at reduced environmental costs. This was the assertion of Prof Niels Anten in his inaugural speech upon accepting the post of Professor of Crop and Weed Ecology at Wageningen University on Monday 22 April.

Prof Anten sees great similarities between nature and a field full of crops. In both cases, plants are surrounded by numerous organisms such as weeds, pollinating insects, fungi, blights and diseases and their natural enemies, all engaged in the struggle for existence.

In order to meet the food demand of nine billion people in 2050 and at the same time reduce our impact on the environment, such as the use of crop protection agents and developments leading to deforestation or desertification, we can no longer rely on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers alone. 'We need to conduct much more research to better understand how to utilize the potential provided by natural ecological processes,' said Professor Anten.

He points to recent research data showing that mixed crops require 20-40% less land to obtain the same total yields as mono-crops. There are several reasons for this. Different plant varieties make use of different growing times and different nutrients in the soil. They can also facilitate each other, for example by providing shade or making the soil more acidic, so that more phosphate is released. Also striking is the fact that mixed cultures are on average 40% less affected by diseases on average than single crops. In China there are even examples of a 90% reduction in diseases caused by fungi, leading to increased overall production.

'Mixed crops like these have a range of benefits. This makes it all the more surprising that so little research has been done into them,' observes Professor Anten. 'Our knowledge of plant breeding and crop physiology has resulted in crops which deliver maximum yield in monocultures. But there has been virtually no equivalent research conducted in mixed crops.'

In his inaugural address entitled 'Crop ecosystems as diverse playing fields,' Professor Niels Anten discusses the parallel development of two fields, the ecology of natural systems such as forests and the ecology of agriculture. Within his teaching and research remit of Crop and Weed Ecology, he will be looking at the connections between these areas of study for the benefit of sustainable crops with high yields.

Neighbours

In his speech, Anten talked at length about the way in which plants can detect each other's presence. Plants responses to neighbour plants can differ depending in whether these neighbours are: friends or a foes, a plant of the same species, a family member or a genetically identical clone, as in many monocultures in the West. A plant uses shade and filtering of sunlight by a neighbouring plant to detect its vicinity and size. It may respond with a growth spurt, towards the light. But the plant also differentiates between species. Maize growing beside wheat will produce deep roots to avoid those of the wheat, whereas if there are roots of beans close by, the maize roots will grow towards them. Plants from the same mother can also react differently to each other than plants from different mothers. So it appears that they recognise each other at the family level too.

Alien neighbouring plants include weeds, which pose an important threat to crop production. The use of herbicides is an important element of weed control, but also harmful to the environment, while more and more weeds are becoming resistant to these agents. 'We will therefore also need to look at other, more ecological solutions,' says Professor Anten. 'In short, in order to achieve a sustainable increase in food production, we will need to deploy all the weapons in our arsenal; among these, the opportunities produced by ecological interactions have to date been largely neglected.'


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wageningen University and Research Centre. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Ecological knowledge offers perspectives for sustainable agriculture." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130429102403.htm>.
Wageningen University and Research Centre. (2013, April 29). Ecological knowledge offers perspectives for sustainable agriculture. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130429102403.htm
Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Ecological knowledge offers perspectives for sustainable agriculture." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130429102403.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

We've Got Mites Living In Our Faces And So Do You

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) A new study suggests 100 percent of adult humans (those over 18 years of age) have Demodex mites living in their faces. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Washington Wildlife Center Goes Nuts Over Baby Squirrels

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 30, 2014) An animal rescue in Washington state receives an influx of orphaned squirrels, keeping workers busy as they nurse them back to health. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Experimental Ebola Drug ZMapp Cures Lab Monkeys Of Disease

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) In a new study, a promising experimental treatment for Ebola managed to cure a group of infected macaque monkeys. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins