Agri Systems & The Environment

The Agricultural Systems & environment theme focuses on the challenge of feeding increasing numbers of people despite increased competition for good quality land and resources such as water, nutrients, labour and energy. It emphasises the key inter-dependence between farmed and natural ecosystems.

In many parts of the world, agriculture has had a damaging impact on the natural environment, such as diffuse pollution, reduction in soil quality, decreased biodiversity. In the future, such negative impacts of agriculture must be minimised and even reversed. At the same time, we see increasing recognition of the positive contribution that agriculture can make in ameliorating key ecological impacts such as climate change, land use change and biodiversity loss.

This theme is led by Lancaster, complimented by the expertise of Rothamsted, Reading and Southampton.

Research priorities within this theme include:

Environmental change and ecosystem service delivery:

  • Impacts of climate change on crop production and agricultural systems.
  • Impact of sustainable intensification of agriculture on biodiversity and ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration, nutrient and water cycling, crop pollination and pest regulation.
  • Management of ecosystems to protect and enhance biodiversity as the environment changes.
  • Consequences of major land use shifts for biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and human welfare.

Farming systems and the environment:

  • Impact of intensive livestock production on the environment.
  • Functional significance of above-ground and below-ground (soil) interactions in farmed and natural ecosystems, and in the integration of this understanding into farming systems, spanning a range of taxonomic groups (microbes, plants, insects, vertebrates) and agricultural systems including grassland and arable in the UK, Europe and the tropics.
  • Use of greater phenotypic diversity to increase resilience to extreme temperature events.

Novel agricultural systems to increase the efficiency of resource use:

  • Bio-control of plant pests and disease.
  • Better understanding of post-harvest physiology to reduce losses.
  • Biofilms and zoonotic pathogen contamination of crops resulting in increased deterioration of plants and reduced shelf life.
  • Plant response to insect herbivory, including activation of inducible plant defence systems, the attraction of beneficial biocontrol agents to herbivore damaged plants, and development of insect resistant plants through GM and other plant breeding techniques.
  • Novel chemical control approaches underpinned by physiological, pharmacological and neurobiological mode of action studies on parasitic nematodes to circumvent the urgent problem of anthelminitic resistance.

The theme tackles these challenges from a range of biological perspectives: systems biology, ecological, evolutionary.