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Concept: Permaculture


Organic agriculture is proposed as a promising approach to achieving sustainable food systems, but its feasibility is also contested. We use a food systems model that addresses agronomic characteristics of organic agriculture to analyze the role that organic agriculture could play in sustainable food systems. Here we show that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use. However, in combination with reductions of food wastage and food-competing feed from arable land, with correspondingly reduced production and consumption of animal products, land use under organic agriculture remains below the reference scenario. Other indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions also improve, but adequate nitrogen supply is challenging. Besides focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, crop-grass-livestock interdependencies and human consumption. None of the corresponding strategies needs full implementation and their combined partial implementation delivers a more sustainable food future.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agriculture, Organic farming, Natural gas, Sustainable agriculture, Greenhouse gas, Agroecology, Permaculture


Responsible agricultural practices provide a useful lens through which to consider the lives and careers of researchers.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Sustainability, Food security, Permaculture


Whether tree canopy habitats played a sustained role in the ecology of ancestral bipedal hominins is unresolved. Some argue that arboreal bipedalism was prohibitively risky for hominins whose increasingly modern anatomy prevented them from gripping branches with their feet. Balancing on two legs is indeed challenging for humans under optimal conditions let alone in forest canopy, which is physically and visually highly dynamic. Here we quantify the impact of forest canopy characteristics on postural stability in humans. Viewing a movie of swaying branches while standing on a branch-like bouncy springboard destabilised the participants as much as wearing a blindfold. However “light touch”, a sensorimotor strategy based on light fingertip support, significantly enhanced their balance and lowered their thigh muscle activity by up to 30%. This demonstrates how a light touch strategy could have been central to our ancestor’s ability to avoid falls and reduce the mechanical and metabolic cost of arboreal feeding and movement. Our results may also indicate that some adaptations in the hand that facilitated continued access to forest canopy may have complemented, rather than opposed, adaptations that facilitated precise manipulation and tool use.

Concepts: Forest ecology, Human anatomy, Canopy, Hominina, Hominid, Ardipithecus, Permaculture


Agricultural production enhancement has been realized by more consumption of fossil energy such as fertilizer and agrochemicals. However, the production provides the present human with sufficient and diversified commodities, but at the same time, deprives in some extent the resources from the future human as well. In the other hand, it is known that synthetic herbicides face worldwide threats to human’s health and environment as well. Therefore, it is a great challenge for agricultural sustainable development. The current review has been focussed on various oilseed crop species which launch efficient allelopathic intervention, either with weeds or other crops. Crop allelopathic properties can make one species more persistent to a native species. Therefore, these crops are potentially harmful to both naturalized as well as agricultural settings. On the other side, allelopathic crops provide strong potential for the development of cultivars that are more highly weed suppressive in managed settings. It is possible to utilize companion plants that have no deleterious effect on neighbor crops and can be included in intercropping system, thus, a mean of contributing to agricultural sustainable development. In mixed culture, replacement method, wherein differing densities of a neighbor species are planted, has been used to study phytotoxic/competitive effects. So, to use alternative ways for weed suppression has become very crucial. Allelochemicals have the ability to create eco-friendly products for weed management, which is beneficial for agricultural sustainable development. Our present study assessed the potential of four oilseed crops for allelopathy on other crops and associated weeds.

Concepts: Agriculture, Sustainability, Crops, Weed, Herbicide, Permaculture, Allelopathy, Companion planting


Without new innovations, present rates of increase in yields of food crops globally are inadequate to meet the projected rising food demand for 2050 and beyond. A prevailing response of crops to rising [CO2 ] is an increase in leaf area. This is especially marked in soybean, the world’s fourth largest food crop in terms of seed production, and the most important vegetable protein source. Is this increase in leaf area beneficial, with respect to increasing yield, or is it detrimental? It is shown from theory and experiment using open-air whole-season elevation of atmospheric [CO2 ] that it is detrimental not only under future conditions of elevated [CO2 ] but also under today’s [CO2 ]. A mechanistic biophysical and biochemical model of canopy carbon exchange and microclimate (MLCan) was parameterized for a modern US Midwest soybean cultivar. Model simulations showed that soybean crops grown under current and elevated (550 [ppm]) [CO2 ] overinvest in leaves, and this is predicted to decrease productivity and seed yield 8% and 10%, respectively. This prediction was tested in replicated field trials in which a proportion of emerging leaves was removed prior to expansion, so lowering investment in leaves. The experiment was conducted under open-air conditions for current and future elevated [CO2 ] within the Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment facility (SoyFACE) in central Illinois. This treatment resulted in a statistically significant 8% yield increase. This is the first direct proof that a modern crop cultivar produces more leaf than is optimal for yield under today’s and future [CO2 ] and that reducing leaf area would give higher yields. Breeding or bioengineering for lower leaf area could, therefore, contribute very significantly to meeting future demand for staple food crops given that an 8% yield increase across the USA alone would amount to 6.5 million metric tons annually.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Agriculture, Futurology, Harvest, Yield, Crops, Crop yield, Permaculture


Harnessing beneficial microbes presents a promising strategy to optimize plant growth and agricultural sustainability. Little is known to which extent and how specifically soil and plant microbiomes can be manipulated through different cropping practices. Here, we investigated soil and wheat root microbial communities in a cropping system experiment consisting of conventional and organic managements, both with different tillage intensities.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Microbiology, Eukaryote, Organic farming, Permaculture


To promote global food and ecosystem security, several innovative farming systems have been identified that better balance multiple sustainability goals. The most rapidly growing and contentious of these systems is organic agriculture. Whether organic agriculture can continue to expand will likely be determined by whether it is economically competitive with conventional agriculture. Here, we examined the financial performance of organic and conventional agriculture by conducting a meta-analysis of a global dataset spanning 55 crops grown on five continents. When organic premiums were not applied, benefit/cost ratios (-8 to -7%) and net present values (-27 to -23%) of organic agriculture were significantly lower than conventional agriculture. However, when actual premiums were applied, organic agriculture was significantly more profitable (22-35%) and had higher benefit/cost ratios (20-24%) than conventional agriculture. Although premiums were 29-32%, breakeven premiums necessary for organic profits to match conventional profits were only 5-7%, even with organic yields being 10-18% lower. Total costs were not significantly different, but labor costs were significantly higher (7-13%) with organic farming practices. Studies in our meta-analysis accounted for neither environmental costs (negative externalities) nor ecosystem services from good farming practices, which likely favor organic agriculture. With only 1% of the global agricultural land in organic production, our findings suggest that organic agriculture can continue to expand even if premiums decline. Furthermore, with their multiple sustainability benefits, organic farming systems can contribute a larger share in feeding the world.

Concepts: Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crop rotation, Agroecology, Industrial agriculture, Permaculture, Wildculture


The increased use of pesticides and tillage intensification is known to negatively affect biodiversity. Changes in these agricultural practices such as herbicide and tillage reduction have variable effects among taxa, especially at the top of the trophic network including insectivorous bats. Very few studies compared the effects of agricultural practices on such taxa, and overall, only as a comparison of conventional versus organic farming without accurately accounting for underlying practices, especially in conventional where many alternatives exist. Divergent results founded in these previous studies could be driven by this lack of clarification about some unconsidered practices inside both conventional and organic systems. We simultaneously compared, over whole nights, bat activity on contiguous wheat fields of one organic and three conventional farming systems located in an intensive agricultural landscape. The studied organic fields (OT) used tillage (i.e., inversion of soil) without chemical inputs. In studied conventional fields, differences consisted of the following: tillage using few herbicides (T), conservation tillage (i.e., no inversion of soil) using few herbicides (CT), and conservation tillage using more herbicide (CTH), to control weeds. Using 64 recording sites (OT = 12; T = 21; CT = 13; CTH = 18), we sampled several sites per system placed inside the fields each night. We showed that bat activity was always higher in OT than in T systems for two (Pipistrellus kuhlii and Pipistrellus pipistrellus) of three species and for one (Pipistrellus spp.) of two genera, as well as greater species richness. The same results were found for the CT versus T system comparison. CTH system showed higher activity than T for only one genus (Pipistrellus spp.). We did not detect any differences between OT and CT systems, and CT showed higher activity than CTH system for only one species (Pipistrellus kuhlii). Activity in OT of Pipistrellus spp. was overall 3.6 and 9.3 times higher than CTH and T systems, respectively, and 6.9 times higher in CT than T systems. Our results highlight an important benefit of organic farming and contrasted effects in conventional farming. That there were no differences detected between the organic and one conventional system is a major result. This demonstrates that even if organic farming is presently difficult to implement and requires a change of economic context for farmers, considerable and easy improvements in conventional farming are attainable, while maintaining yields and approaching the ecological benefits of organic methods.

Concepts: Agriculture, Bat, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Surface runoff, Industrial agriculture, Tillage, Permaculture


Recent global warming is acting across marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems to favor species adapted to warmer conditions and/or reduce the abundance of cold-adapted organisms (i.e., “thermophilization” of communities). Lack of community responses to increased temperature, however, has also been reported for several taxa and regions, suggesting that “climatic lags” may be frequent. Here we show that microclimatic effects brought about by forest canopy closure can buffer biotic responses to macroclimate warming, thus explaining an apparent climatic lag. Using data from 1,409 vegetation plots in European and North American temperate forests, each surveyed at least twice over an interval of 12-67 y, we document significant thermophilization of ground-layer plant communities. These changes reflect concurrent declines in species adapted to cooler conditions and increases in species adapted to warmer conditions. However, thermophilization, particularly the increase of warm-adapted species, is attenuated in forests whose canopies have become denser, probably reflecting cooler growing-season ground temperatures via increased shading. As standing stocks of trees have increased in many temperate forests in recent decades, local microclimatic effects may commonly be moderating the impacts of macroclimate warming on forest understories. Conversely, increases in harvesting woody biomass-e.g., for bioenergy-may open forest canopies and accelerate thermophilization of temperate forest biodiversity.

Concepts: Ecology, Climate, Temperature, Ecosystem, Climate change, Forest, Global warming, Permaculture


The biobased chemical industry is characterised by strong growth. Innovative products and materials such as biopolymers have been developed, and current European demand for biopolymers exceeds the domestic supply. Agroforestry residues can serve as main sources of the basic building blocks for chemicals and materials. This work assesses sustainably available agroforestry residues to feed a high added-value materials and product bioeconomy. To evaluate bioeconomic potential, a structured three-step approach is applied. Cultivation practices, sustainability issues, legislative restrictions, technical limitations and competitive applications are considered. All data regarding bioeconomic potential are processed on a regional level and mapped by ArcGIS. Our results identify wheat straw as the most promising source in the agricultural sector, followed by maize stover, barley straw and rape straw, which all contain a total concentration of lignocellulose of more than 80% of dry matter. In the forestry sector, residue bark from two coniferous species, spruce and pine, is the most promising source, with approximately 70% lignocellulose. Additionally, coniferous bark contains considerable amounts of tannin, which has attracted increasing interest for industrial utilisation. A sensitivity analysis concerning removal rates, residue-to-crop ratios, changes in farming technologies and competing applications is applied at the end of the study to consolidate our results.

Concepts: Agriculture, European Union, Forestry, Europe, Sustainability, Pine, Fodder, Permaculture