New book provides an ecological view of Midwest agriculture

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The new book synthesizes two decades of KBS LTER research on the ecology of row-crop ecosystems of the US Midwest. (view larger image)

Hickory Corners, Michigan—As spring approaches, thousands of farmers across the Midwest are preparing for planting, knowing well the importance of their work in supplying society with food. They may be less aware of the potential for their row crops to provide a host of additional benefits, including clean water, habitat for beneficial insects such as pollinators, and even climate change mitigation.

Agriculture’s role in providing such benefits has been the subject of over 25 years of research at the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in southwest Michigan. With long-term support from the National Science Foundation and Michigan State University, researchers from the KBS Long-term Ecological Research (LTER) program have studied the ecology of Midwest field crops with an eye towards understanding the fundamental processes that provide agricultural and environmental benefits in addition to yield. And in a new book, The Ecology of Agricultural Landscapes: Long-term Research on the Path to Sustainability, they synthesize over two decades of agroecological research in major row crops at KBS.

Phil Robertson, MSU Distinguished Professor and Director of the KBS LTER, explains, “Since 1988 we have explored fundamental relationships and processes in row-crop ecosystems. This understanding allows farmers to better utilize biological resources such as cover crops and beneficial insects to provide nutrients, control pests, and build soil fertility on productive farms of the Midwest.”

Unique to the research is its long-term nature and the collaboration of agricultural scientists, ecologists, and social scientists to explore key parts of agricultural ecosystems: from soil microbes that sequester carbon to insects that attack pests to wetlands that remove pollutants, and even to farmer attitudes about alternative management practices. The volume synthesizes a comprehensive inquiry into the ecology of cropping systems, and the authors identify future steps needed on the path to sustainability.

Over 30 authors from MSU and elsewhere contributed to the book, the latest in a series published by Oxford University Press from the Long-term Ecological Research Network.

Lead editor and MSU professor Steve Hamilton notes, “The book is a wonderful demonstration of the importance of cross-disciplinary, long-term research for understanding ecosystem services from agriculture. With this understanding, we can better inform the management and design of farming systems to meet the growing world demand for agricultural products in a way that minimizes environmental harm and enhances the delivery of environmental benefits.”

For more information, including PDFs of the book chapters and slides of figures available for download, visit http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/synthesisbook/

Hamilton, S.K., J. E. Doll, and G. P. Robertson, editors. 2015. The ecology of agricultural landscapes: long-term research on the path to sustainability. Oxford University Press, New York, New York, USA.

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Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station Long-term Ecological Research (KBS LTER) Program studies the ecology of intensive field crop ecosystems as part of a national network of LTER sites established by the National Science Foundation. More information at http://lter.kbs.msu.edu

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