Meeting the ecological challenges of agricultural change: editors’ introduction
- 1The global need for agricultural production has never been greater. Nor has it ever been more complex due to the needs to balance global food security, optimum production, technological innovation, the preservation of environmental functions and the protection of biodiversity. The role of ecologists in finding this balance is pivotal.
- 2In support of this role, ecologists now have very substantial experience of agricultural systems. We can understand, recognize and sometimes predict, at least qualitatively, the effects of pesticide applications, fertilizer use, drainage, crop choices and habitat modifications on farmland organisms, agro-ecosystems or other ecosystems influenced by agricultural land.
- 3In instances of greater uncertainty, for example under changing climates, where environmental stresses on ecosystems are interactive, and where ecosystem management or restoration must adapt to new technologies, the investigative skills and experience of ecologists are even more crucial in problem solving.
- 4There are, nevertheless, contrasting examples of good and bad practice in knowledge-transfer between ecologists and the communities who need our knowledge. The UK farm-scale evaluations of genetically modified crops, for example, involved ecologists at all stages from design and data collection to advocating policy. By contrast, many European agri-environment projects appear to have been developed and evaluated with only modest ecological advice. We advocate fuller involvement of ecologists in the development and evaluation of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy.
- 5This special profile of seven agriculturally related papers illustrates effectively the array of approaches used by applied ecologists in addressing agricultural questions: modelling, meta-analysis, surveys, transect studies, classical experiments, seedbank assays and process studies based on modern ecological methods. With over 20% of recent papers in the Journal of Applied Ecology reflecting agricultural issues, agro-ecology continues to represent one of the pre-eminent areas of applied ecology that is unlikely to diminish in importance.