The Princeton Guide to Ecology

By Simon A. Levin | Go to book overview

VI.4
Human-Dominated Systems:
Agroecosystems
Alison G. Power, Megan O’Rourke, and Laurie E. Drinkwater
OUTLINE
1. Introduction
2. Supporting ecosystem services
3. Regulating ecosystem services
4. Supporting biodiversity
5. Managing agricultural systems for ecosystem services

Agricultural ecosystems around the globe differ radically. These systems, designed by diverse cultures under diverse socioeconomic conditions in diverse climatic regions, range from temperate zone monocultural corn production systems to species-rich tropical agroforestry systems to arid-land pastoral systems. This diversity of agricultural systems produces a variety of ecosystem services. Just as the provisioning services and products that derive from these agroecosystems vary, the support services, regulating services, and cultural services also vary. In general, agricultural activities are likely to modify or reduce the ecological services provided by unmanaged terrestrial ecosystems (except for provisioning services), but appropriate management of key processes may improve the ability of agroecosystems to provide a range of ecosystem services.


GLOSSARY

agroecosystem. An ecosystem designed and managed by humans to produce agricultural goods

agroforestry. An agricultural system in which woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same unit of land

biological nitrogen fixation. A process carried out by specific microbes that have the ability to convert atmospheric N2 gas into forms that can be used by plants

decomposition. The breakdown of organic residues carried out by bacteria and fungi resulting in the release of energy, nutrients, and CO2

mineralization. The release of nutrients occurring during decomposition; nutrients such as N and P are converted from organic forms to soluble inorganic ions that can be taken up by plants

natural enemy. A predator, parasite, parasitoid, or pathogen of another organism; often describes beneficial organisms that attack pests in agricultural systems

polyculture. An agricultural system in which multiple crops are grown on the same unit of land at the same time


1. INTRODUCTION

Agricultural ecosystems cover approximately 40% of the terrestrial surface of the Earth. These highly managed ecosystems are designed by humans to provide food (both plant and animal), forage, fiber, biofuels, and plant chemicals. The primary ecosystem services provided by agriculture are these provisioning services. Influenced by human management, ecosystem processes within agricultural systems provide other services that support the provisioning services, including pollination, pest control, genetic diversity for future agricultural use, regulation of soil fertility and nutrient cycling, and water provisioning.

In addition to these provisioning services, however, agroecosystems can also provide a wide range of regulating and cultural services to human populations. Regulating services from agriculture may include flood control, water flow and quality, carbon storage and climate regulation through greenhouse gas emissions, disease regulation, and waste treatment (e.g., nutrients,

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