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Posts Tagged: biodiversity

Feed big; start small

Adapted from an article by Eileen Ecklund in Breakthroughs magazine.

Mixing crop helps promote biodiversity, like this mixed-crop field of amaranth, sunflowers and broom corn at Fully Belly Far, in Guinda, Calif. Photo: Paul Kirchner Studios
Scaling up — that’s always the sticking point with organic farming when it faces the question of whether it can feed the world’s hungry millions.

But a group of UC Berkeley scientists say that continuing on our current path of industrial agriculture is simply not sustainable, given its enormous water, energy and chemical inputs, together with the new challenges posed by climate change, such as temperature and precipitation extremes.

With the launch of the interdisciplinary Berkeley Center Diversified Farming Systems late last year, UC Berkeley scientists are coalescing around a set of biodiversity-promoting farming practices they say are a promising solution.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist and associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, says that most or even all of the inputs that modern commercial farms require — chemical pesticides and fertilizers, wasteful amounts of water and energy, imported pollinators — were needed only because the monoculture-dominated landscapes created by industrial agriculture lacked biodiversity.

"From studying the pollinators, I realized that the way we conduct agriculture has basically required us to replace all of the ecosystem services that used to be in the agricultural ecosystem with substitutes," said Kremen, a 2007 MacArthur Fellow.

Generally speaking, a diversified farming system is one that promotes biodiversity across spatial scales, from plot to field to landscape. Crops are planted and livestock raised in combination, resulting in interactions that sponsor the functioning of the farming systems in ways that replenish natural ecosystems. Methods employed within a diversified farm may include minimal soil tillage, growing multiple crops together, planting cover crops, and interspersing trees and shrubs with crops and livestock.

Animals help to clear cover crops, which add nutrients to the soil and feed the animals, which in turn bear wool. Photo: Paul Kirchner Studios

These practices also provide pollination, pest and disease control, water purification, and erosion control. They help to build healthy, productive soil and reduce water use, as demonstrated by research conducted by Kremen and her Berkeley colleague Miguel Altieri in their respective labs and on farms in Napa, Sonoma, and Yolo counties.

But diversified farming systems aren't just about providing food and protecting the environment; to be truly sustainable, they must also provide a livelihood to farmers and farm laborers, and help support the communities that depend on them. UC Berkeley-based Cooperative Extension specialist Christy Getz has studied farm labor conditions and food security among agricultural workers. In one project, her team developed a program to help Southeast Asian refugee farmers in California scale up their operations, connect to alternative distribution systems, and access new markets for their produce, such as local schools.

Professor Alistair Isles focuses on the public policy, science policy, and sociological dimensions of making a switch back to diversified systems from industrial agriculture in developed countries. For example, he has studied the importance of innovative consumer tools that promote sustainable agriculture such issues as "food miles"—the distance that food travels from farm to table—and sustainable seafood evaluation methods.

A native species hedgerow borders an artichoke field at Fully Belly Farm in Guinda, Calif. Photo: Paul Kirchner Studios
Other Berkeley professors associated with the new center are experts in economics, agroecology and rangelands, bastions of biodiversity that support a host of ecosystem services beneficual to agriculture, including the pollination provided to farmers by wild bees.

If farmers could bring back many of the traditional practices that supported biodiversity, enhanced by the application of modern ecological science, Kremen believes that the world could produce more food while reducing agriculture's harmful effects, making it more sustainable over the long term.

And unlike organic agriculture, diversified farming systems are not an all-or-nothing approach; Kremen says farmers can implements all the systems the Berkeley center recommends based on its research, or simply implement selected techniques, such as planting native-plant hedgerows or using soil-enriching cover crops, and still make their farms more sustainable.

Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 8:07 AM
  • Author: Ann Brody Guy
Tags: biodiversity (3), farming (3), food security (20), organic (10)

Biodiversity Creates Biodiversity

Andrew Forbes

Biodiversity creates biodiversity. That point comes through loud and clear when you read the scientific paper on the apple maggot/parasitic wasp research led by UC Davis evolutionary ecologist Andrew Forbes. The news embargo lifted at 11 a.m....

Andrew Forbes
Andrew Forbes

IN THE LAB--UC Davis evolutionary ecologist Andrew Forbes works in the lab. His research on the apple maggot and a parasitic wasp will be published Feb. 6 in the journal Science. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Parasitic Wasp
Parasitic Wasp

This is a male Diachasma alloeum wasp on an apple. (Photo by Andrew Forbes)

Apple Maggot Fly
Apple Maggot Fly

This is a female apple maggot fly (Rhagoletis pomonella) on the surface of an apple (Photo by Andrew Forbes)

Emergence
Emergence

A wasp, Diachasma alloeum, emerges from the puparium of an apple maggot. (Photo by Andrew Forbes)

Posted on Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 5:38 PM

Off to Indonesia

Part of the Indonesian team

Good news.   It’s official. University of California, Davis scientists who manage campus biological collections have just received a five-year, $4 million grant to research the biodiversity of fungi, bacteria, plants, insects...

Part of the Indonesian team
Part of the Indonesian team

OFF TO INDONESIA--This group of UC Davis scientists will be doing research in Indonesia. From left are Ellen Dean, museum scientist, UC Davis Herbarium; Steve Heydon, senior museum scientist, Bohart Museum of Entomology; Kyria Boundy-Mills, curator of the Phaff Yeast Culture Collection in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology; Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology; principal investigator Dan Potter, a plant systematist at the Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the UC Davis Herbarium; and Andrew Engilis Jr., curator of the UC Davis Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology; and Irene Engilis, collections manager of the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Butterflies from southeast Asia
Butterflies from southeast Asia

EXOTIC BUTTERFLIES--UC Davis entomologist Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and chair of the Department of Entomology, looks over butterflies from southeast Asia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2008 at 4:52 PM
 
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