Projects and research areas of the Ecosystem Services Research Group:
- Crop ecophysiology and resilience to temperature stress
- Parasitic weed management in staple crops in Africa
- Weeds of the future: Vulpia myuros
- Rediscovering Coffee in Sierra Leone
- Sustainability of Coffee Agroforestry in Central America
- Sustainable Agricultural Intensification: agronomic approaches for smallholders in the south
- Enset Agrisystems in Ethiopia
- Soil multifunctionality
- Agricultural value chain analysis for sustainable development
- Spatial analysis and modelling of the effects of climate, land use and land cover change on biodiversity, agriculture and human wellbeing
- Design and evaluation of development and conservation initiatives
Sustainability of Coffee Agroforestry in Central America
Demand for increasing agricultural production, from existing land area, requires the intensification of production. At the same time there is a need for increased sustainability, both in terms of sustaining crop productivity under conditions of climate and market variation, and maintaining ecosystem services to humanity in general. Agroforestry systems have been posed as a way to combine productive land-use with environmental sustainability. Coffee agri-systems vary from intensive monoculture plantations to forest-like coffee agroforests and thus provide a model system to evaluate the trade-offs and potential synergies between productive intensification and environmental sustainability.
Project: Sustainability-Intensification Trade-Offs in Coffee Agroforestry in Central America, BBSRC/GCRF - 2019-2021
The research builds on a unique 20-year old coffee experiment contrasting monoculture and agroforestry under different inputs levels to evaluate a similar range of systems across 180 coffee farms in Costa Rica and Guatemala for their environmental and economic performance. The research brings together field measurements of productivity, use of light, water and nutrients with a coffee agroforestry model to assess carbon, nitrogen and water balance as well as productivity under different input and climate scenarios. The modelled outcomes will be used to conduct economic sensitivity analysis against climate and market variations. A trade-off model will be applied that integrates productive, economic, environmental and social parameters, and works with the variability in a population of farmers to assess the proportion of the population that will adopt sustainable or intensive practices, and the economic and environmental outcomes. Uniquely, we will apply this model across different market and climatic conditions to assess where sustainable or intensive production options provide greater resilience to these challenges. Assessments of ecosystem services (biodiversity, carbon storage, soil and nutrient retention, pest and diseases control) under different management scenarios will be used to identify how different management systems affect the environment and the coffee productivity. Furthermore, the ecosystem services assessment could help identify possible trade-offs between sustainability and productivity of the different management strategies identified in the two countries.
For more information see:
Partners: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology www.ceh.ac.uk, Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) in Costa Rica www.catie.ac.cr, Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies, Universidad del Valle in Guatemala https://www.uvg.edu.gt/investigacion/ceab/;
NRI researchers: Jeremy Haggar, Lucie Büchi, Conor Walsh, Pamela Katic, Baqir Lalani, Stefania Cerretelli.
- Haggar J., Casanoves F., Cerda R., Cerretelli S., González-Mollinedo S., Lanza G., López E., Leiva B., Ospina M.A. 2021. Shade and Agronomic Intensification in Coffee Agroforestry Systems: Trade-Off or Synergy? Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, DOI: 10.3389/fsufs.2021.645958
Project: Trade-off and synergies of coffee systems for adaptation and mitigation to climate change
Coffee land evaluation: In this research, an evaluation of climate, soil, and landform biophysical factors is conducted under current and climate change conditions for coffee areas in Central America. The magnitude, dynamic and spatial distribution of changes in the land suitability is estimated for coffee and non-coffee areas in the region. The land evaluation is conducted using a Bayesian network land suitability model developed from literature and empirical data and adjusted for the region. The model and results can serve as decision support tools in agricultural planning and policymaking considering changes in the climate or other biophysical factors. Inferring missing data: Giving the missing agroecological variables’ data is a common problem during land evaluations; a methodology is proposed where available agroecological variables are used as proxies to estimate missing ones. Adaptation to climate change: Our results indicate a significant reduction in the land suitability for coffee cultivation; so, actions to adapt coffee systems are needed. The rise in the temperature is the most influential variable on the land suitability downgrade. Shading is commonly used to cooling warming conditions in coffee plantations at lower altitudes; so, this research explores the potential of shading in cooling future warming conditions in coffee areas in Central America. The cooling effect of shading is captured and incorporated into the land suitability model, so the changes in (micro)climatic suitability, land suitability, and shading recommendations are estimated. Trade-off and synergies of coffee systems: Climate change is a threat that requires actions to adapt crop systems without losing (or improving) productivity, and if possible, to mitigate climate change causes (reduce emission and/or carbon sequestration). This study aims to depict the potential trade-off and synergies of coffee systems considering productivity, adaptation, and mitigation. A farming typology is developed to expose such potential and used to create a model to explore the required adjustment in the farming system considering productivity, adaption, and mitigation under climate change scenarios.
Partners: Research Unit Sustainability and Global Change, University of Hamburg.
NRI researchers: Leonel Lara-Estrada
- Lara-Estrada, L., Rasche, L., & Schneider, U. A. (2017). Modeling land suitability for Coffea arabica L. in Central America. Environmental Modelling & Software, 95, 196–209. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2017.06.028
- Lara-Estrada, L., Rasche, L., Sucar, L. E., & Schneider, U. A. (2018). Inferring Missing Climate Data for Agricultural Planning Using Bayesian Networks. Land, 7(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.3390/land7010004
Enset Agrisystems in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is a hot spot of agrobiodiversity and the home of several crop species of national and global importance such as enset and coffee. Enset forms the basis of complex agri-systems, that supports very high rural population densities in the southern Ethiopian highlands.
Project: Landscape scale genomic-environment diversity data to model existing and novel agri-systems under climate change to enhance food security in Ethiopia, BBSRC/GCRF - 2019-2021
The aim of the project is to perform a high-resolution multi-functional genomic and environmental characterization of Ethiopian highland agri-systems, contrasting native and introduced crops and trees. The project seeks to better understand the genetic diversity of enset and associated crops, and their local adaptation patterns in order to guide farmers in the choice of optimal varieties for their current soil and climatic conditions. The project is also concerned with future distributions of varieties, linked to potential change in habitat suitability according to future climate projections. The project aims also to enhance the future resource provision of these crops, and generation of economic and social impact on the livelihoods they support. NRI’s role in this project is to characterise the species and agri-system distribution and their association with soil fertility characteristics, that may determine their future productivity and sustainability.
Partners: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Queen Mary University London, Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute, Addis Ababa University and Hawassa University
NRI researchers: Lucie Büchi, Jeremy Haggar
For more information see:https://gtr.ukri.org/projects?ref=BB%2FS014896%2F1
Project: Characterisation of enset functional traits, genetics and optimal management practices to enhance food security and climate resilience in Ethiopia, 2020-2024
This project focuses on the ecological characterisation of cultivated Enset, with particular focus on its tolerance to drought, in order to better understand its productivity and resilience in the context of climate change. This a PhD project funded by UKRI/FaNSI initiative.
Partners: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (James Borrell), Hawassa University
NRI researchers: Rachel Chase (PhD student), Lucie Büchi (supervisor), Jonne Rodenburg (supervisor)
Parasitic weed management in staple crops in Africa
Weed infestation is considered one of the most important overarching production constraints in smallholder cropping systems in Africa. Weeds cause yield losses, as they compete with the crop for production resources -i.e. light, water, nutrients- and they increase production costs as they necessitate control. Parasitic weeds form a special group within this pest category. In addition to their competition and production-inefficiency effects, they parasitise crop plants whereby they extract water, nutrients and assimilates and disrupt the hormone balance. Crop plants that host parasitic weeds show stunted growth, reduced biomass and grain production, resulting in overall crop yields. Smallholder farmers in Africa growing staple crops (e.g. rice, sorghum, maize) in rainfed production environments, are most affected by such parasitic weeds. These farmers often grow crops on degraded soils where parasitic weeds are most prevalent and damaging, and they often have limited access to knowledge and resources to manage these weeds.
Striga smart sorghum solutions for smallholders in East Africa, The Royal Society/GCRF – 2019-2022
This project aims to overcome two important constraints to smallholder sorghum production in sub-Saharan Africa: poor soil fertility and weed infestation. The most common and problematic weed for sorghum is the parasitic weed Striga, which causes more damage than ordinary weeds. Striga parasitises roots of suitable host plants to extract water, nutrients and host-plant metabolites. By doing so it also modifies the host-plant hormone balance, causing stunting growth and reduced leaf area and thickness. Overall, this results in a negative impact on the host biomass (and grain yield) that is far greater than the biomass gain obtained by the parasite. Striga infection can be reduced by cultivating resistant varieties, while crop damage can be mitigated by cultivating tolerant varieties. A number of sorghum varieties have been identified previously with various degrees of resistance of tolerance as well as varieties that combine these defence mechanisms. Another control strategy is the judicious application of fertilisers, which also directly improves productivity on poor soils. No solution alone however provides complete control. In this project the aim is therefore to improve and combine both solutions to help farmers reducing (current and future) Striga infections and mitigating the negative effects from infections, which in turn contributes to satisfactory and stable sorghum yields. We focus on Striga hermonthica, which is one of the most important species of Striga in terms of distribution and economic damage. The geographic focus is on Kenya as one of the important affected countries in East Africa. Specifically, the project will validate genes responsible for different resistance mechanisms as these can, in the near future, be transferred and combined in farmer-preferred varieties. Exciting innovations in molecular biology make this possible. Alongside this, we will ask farmers in Western Kenya, one of the S. hermonthica hotspots, to evaluate previously identified resistant sorghum varieties to select the best ones. Also we investigate the role of improved (host) plant nutrition and test and develop low-cost fertiliser technologies that increase Striga resistance, tolerance and yield of these sorghum varieties. We will disseminate these combined technologies through extension workshops and videos, enabling millions of farmers to become food secure and generate income from selling their surpluses.
Partners: Kenyatta University (http://www.ku.ac.ke), Steven Runo (co-PI)
PhD Students working on this topic: Immaculate Mwangangi: ‘Enhancing Striga resistance and tolerance in sorghum by improved fertilization in sub-Saharan Africa’ (Funded by UKRI/FaNSI)
- Mwangangi I.M., Büchi L., Haefele S.M., Bastiaans L., Runo S., Rodenburg J. 2021. Combining host plant defence with targeted nutrition: key to durable control of hemi‐parasitic Striga in cereals in sub‐Saharan Africa? New Phytologist; https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17271
- Tippe DE, Bastiaans L, van Ast A, Dieng I, Cissoko M, Kayeke J, Makokha DW, Rodenburg J. 2020. Fertilisers differentially affect facultative and obligate parasitic weeds of rice and only occasionally improve yields in infested fields. Field Crops Research 254, 107845; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fcr.2020.107845
- Randrianjafizanaka MT, Autfray P, Andrianaivo AP, Ramonta IR, Rodenburg J. 2018. Combined effects of cover crops, mulch, zero-tillage and resistant varieties on Striga asiatica (L.) Kuntze in rice-maize rotation systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 256, 23-33; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2017.12.005
- Rodenburg J, Cissoko M, Kayongo N, Dieng I, Bisikwa J, Irakiza R, Masoka I, Midega CAO, Scholes JD. 2017. Genetic variation and host-parasite specificity of Striga resistance and tolerance in rice: the need for predictive breeding. New Phytologist 214, 1267–1280; https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.14451
- Rodenburg J, Demont M, Zwart SJ, Bastiaans L. 2016. Parasitic weed incidence and related economic losses in rice in Africa. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 235, 306-317; https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2016.10.020
Soils are central to sustainable agri-systems, and provide a multitude of ecosystem services in addition to supporting crop production. Maintain soil health in a changing climate is the basis for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification, but the complexity of soils prevents the success of one-fits-all solutions. With this in mind we are developing research around these topics:
- The soil biophysical processes that help to maintain organic matter and reduce soil degradation and soil losses.
- The fate of nutrients and agrochemicals in agricultural soils to ensure nutrient availability for crops and reduce the risks of pollution.
- Developing farmer-centric tools to deliver soil health information for smallholders.
NRI researchers: Marcos Paradelo Perez, Lucie Büchi
Biophysical drivers of soil resilience in a changing climate, Independent Research Fund Denmark – 2019-2022
Soil resilience to accelerated climate change largely depends on soil organic carbon (SOC) and its impact on food and fibre production and other ecosystem services. The roles of soil microbial communities and soil physicochemical properties on SOC dynamics are often examined separately, leading to incomplete understanding of soil-microbe interactions. This project aims to integrate the soil microbiome and physicochemical properties to identify critical drivers of soil resilience and propose a methodology for restoring SOC-depleted soils. The project will utilize experimental sites from three geographical regions with gradients in climate, SOC, physicochemical properties, and differences in soil management. The sites will provide the necessary platform to develop experimental setups to identify i) soil habitats that drive soil resilience, ii) biophysical dynamics and SOC sequestration capacity, and iii) propose microbial inoculants that recover soil function in SOC-depleted soils.
Soil Health and Terroir in English Vineyards, Fields4ever/H2020 - 2021
The establishment of new vineyards changes soil properties that will affect nutrient and carbon cycles. Understanding these changes will provide the basis for sustainable viticulture in England and other 'new' wine regions.
We hypothesize that physical and biological soil characteristics will influence vines’ physiology and the wine’s terroir. This project aims:
- To measure changes in soil structure development and microbial activity in a new experimental vineyard in Kent (UK)
- To study the management effects on the continuum soil-microbiome-plant and the grape’s organoleptic properties.
Soil fertility and crop production in the tropics
This topic is investigated in the Coffee and Enset projects described on their specific project pages [add links to Coffee Agroforestry and Enset Agrisystems]
- Banerjee, S., Walder, F., Büchi, L., Meyer, M., Held, A.Y., Gattinger, A., Keller, T., Charles, R., van der Heijden, M., 2019. Agricultural intensification reduces microbial network complexity and the abundance of keystone taxa in roots. The ISME Journal https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-019-0383-2
- Büchi, L., Wendling, M., Amossé, C., Necpalova, M., Charles, R., 2018. Importance of cover crops in alleviating negative effects of reduced soil tillage and promoting soil fertility in a winter wheat cropping system. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 256:92-104.
- Masters-Clark, E., Shone, E., Paradelo, M., Hirsch, P. R., Clark, I. M., Otten, W., Brennan, F., & Mauchline, T. H. (2020). Development of a defined compost system for the study of plant-microbe interactions. Scientific Reports, 10(1), 7521. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64249-0
- Paradelo, M., Katuwal, S., Moldrup, P., Norgaard, T., Herath, L., & de Jonge, L. W. (2016). X-ray CT-derived soil characteristics explain varying air, water, and solute transport properties across a loamy field. Vadose Zone Journal, 15(4). https://doi.org/10.2136/vzj2015.07.0104
- Soto-Gómez, D., Pérez-Rodríguez, P., Vázquez Juíz, L., Paradelo, M., & López-Periago, J. E. (2020). 3D multifractal characterization of computed tomography images of soils under different tillage management: Linking multifractal parameters to physical properties. Geoderma, 363. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.114129
- Innovation hubs for soil improving cropping systems, 2016-2017
- Climate change adaptability of agricultural systems in Europe (Climate CAFE), 2015-2017
Weeds of the future: Vulpia myuros
Weeds have a major impact on crop production, and new weeds appear as agricultural practices and climate change. It is thus paramount to study these emerging weeds before they become a major threat to future crop production.
Vulpia myuros is an annual grass, present almost worldwide. In recent years, V. myuros has been increasingly observed as a weed in field crops in Europe and the United States. At the same time, there is a worldwide tendency to reduce tillage to conserve soil, practice that favours infestation by V. myuros. In addition, as a species adapted to dry conditions, V. myuros could be favoured in Europe in the future as most climate change scenarios predict increasing occurrences of drought.
NRI researchers: Lucie Büchi, Jonne Rodenburg
Pilot survey on Vulpia myuros, a new weed in European agriculture, 2021
It is crucial to monitor the current presence of V. myuros in the UK, to evaluate the potential agricultural and economic impact it could have for British agriculture and especially for winter crops. This project aims at launching a pilot study on the presence and impact of this species in the UK, via networking with farmer related associations and the launch of a survey.
European monitoring network
Vulpia myuros being present in all Europe, monitoring its presence and potential expansion at this scale is also important and may bring new understanding about the species and help developing control methods.
Observations of V. myuros can be sent to us via the form published with the article cited below. The form can also be found at this page:
Map of Vulpia myuros records:
- Büchi, L., Cordeau, S., Hull, R., Rodenburg, J., 2021. Vulpia myuros, an increasing threat for agriculture. Weed Research 61, 13-24, doi: 10.1111/wre.12456
Sustainable Agricultural Intensification: agronomic approaches for smallholders in the south
Achieving global food security, and social and economic equity for a growing population facing climate change is a daunting contemporary challenge. This requires, among other actions, Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (SAI) – an increase in agricultural productivity from available farmlands, while minimizing the negative impacts on the environment, and managing the potential trade-offs between human, animal and environmental health and welfare, as well as seeking equity of outcomes for stakeholders. The majority of farms worldwide, and particularly in the south, are smallholder family farms with low productivity and often limited capacity to sustainably intensify production. Agronomic approaches to support SAI on smallholder farms in the south need to be effective in increasing crop productivity and improving or maintaining natural resources. They also need to be suitable, affordable and accessible for smallholder farmers. Therefore production methods need to be developed that are based on ecological insights, supported by renewable and locally sourced inputs and adapted to local contexts (i.e. physical, social, cultural, economic, and institutional/political environments).
Project: Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Research and Learning in Africa. FCDO 2015-2020
SAIRLA was a five-year programme that seeks to generate new evidence and design tools to enable governments, investors and other key actors to deliver more effective policies and investments in SAI that strengthen the capacity of poorer farmers’, especially women and youth, to access and benefit from SAI. SAIRLA’s research projects generated new evidence and decision-making support tools to help governments, policy-makers, investors and other key actors create an enabling environment for women and poorer smallholder farmers engage in sustainable agricultural intensification. SAIRLA facilitated the development of multi-stakeholder learning platforms – the SAIRLA Learning Alliance - in each of the target countries and between those countries and international stakeholders to co-generate, share and facilitate use of knowledge by decision makers.
NRI researchers: Jonne Rodenburg, Lucie Büchi, Jeremy Haggar
- Rodenburg J., Büchi L., Haggar J. 2020. Adoption by adaptation: Moving from conservation agriculture to conservation practices. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, DOI: 10.1080/14735903.2020.1785734
- Rodenburg J., Randrianjafizanaka M.T., Büchi L., Dieng I., Andrianaivo A.P,. Ravaomanarivo L.H.R., Autfray P. 2020. Mixed outcomes from conservation practices on soils and Striga-affected yields of a low input, rice-maize system in Madagascar. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 40:8; DOI: 10.1007/s13593-020-0612-0
- Senthilkumar K., Tesha B.J., Mghase, J., Rodenburg J. 2018. Increasing paddy yields and improving farm management: results from participatory experiments with good agricultural practices (GAP) in Tanzania. Paddy Water and Environment 16, 749–766; DOI: 10.1007/s10333-018-0666-7
- Randrianjafizanaka M.T., Autfray P., Andrianaivo A.P., Ramonta I.R., Rodenburg J. 2018. Combined effects of cover crops, mulch, zero-tillage and resistant varieties on Striga asiatica (L.) Kuntze in rice-maize rotation systems. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 256, 23-33.
- Krupnik T.J., Rodenburg J., Haden V.R., Mbaye D., Shennan C. 2012. Genotypic trade-offs between water productivity and weed competition under the System of Rice Intensification in the Sahel. Agricultural Water Management 115, 156-166
- Krupnik T.J., Shennan C., Settle W.H., Demont M., Ndiaye A.B., Rodenburg J. 2012. Improving irrigated rice production in the Senegal River Valley through on-farm experiential learning and innovation. Agricultural Systems 109, 101-112
Agricultural value chain analysis for sustainable development
Agricultural supply chains analyses recognises that agricultural commodities can often be transported significant distances from production to final consumption and encompass an array of different production, processing, transport and storage activities. A value chain (VC) approach expands on the concept of a supply chain to emphasise the importance in developing a typology of the diverse actors that underpin a value chain and recognises the importance of social elements, including the values and perceptions of the actors. A key example is the Value-chain for development (VCA4D) initiative organised through Agrinatura and commissioned through the Director General International Partnerships (formerly DG International Cooperation and Development). VCA4D is region and content specific based on 4 framing questions: who are the main VC actors? Is the VC environmentally, socially and economically sustainable? This entails a range of different methodologies such as assessment of value added along the supply chain and a lifecycle assessment of the embodied environmental impacts. Crucially the VCA4D seeks to ascertain whether economic benefits and social impacts are shared equitably amongst the value chain actors. Crucially the method seeks to distinguish rational sub-value chains that follow specific materials to defined points along a supply chain (e.g. from small holders to local processing).
NRI researcher: Conor Walsh
- Walsh, C., 2020. Palm oil value Chain Analysis in Indonesia. Report for the European Union, DG-DEVCO. Value Chain Analysis for Development Project (VCA4D CTR 2016/375-804), 41p.
- Nicolay, G; Estur, G; Walsh, C; Desalegn, P, 2020. Cotton Value Chain Analysis in Ethiopia. Report for the European Union, DG-DEVCO. Value Chain Analysis for Development Project (VCA4D CTR 2016/375-804), 128 p + annexes.
Spatial analysis and modelling of the effects of climate, land use and land cover change on biodiversity, agriculture and human wellbeing
Changes in land cover alter the flow of greenhouse gases, energy and water between land and atmosphere, affecting regional and global climate and increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme climate events. Changes in land cover moreover alter the ability of ecosystem and biodiversity to cope against extreme climate, affecting society that depends on them to maintain agriculture production, food security, human health and well-being. Knowledge of the relationship between climate, land condition, ecosystem, and human well-being can help inform society to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Generating such knowledge requires appropriate analyses and approaches that can adequately model and capture the relationship between each of these components across space and time. In recent decades, satellite-based datasets on land cover and land use, climate, and other biophysical attributes at high spatial and temporal resolution have become widely available. Socioeconomic datasets collected via censuses and household surveys are also increasingly available at the level of enumeration areas. The availability of such datasets, together with advanced modelling approaches, provides an opportunity to unravel the complex climate-land-human relationship to better guide and inform land use planning decision.
NRI researchers: Stefania Cerretelli, Leonel Lara-Estrada, Truly Santika
- Cerretelli, S., Poggio, L., Yakob, G., Boke, S., Habte, M., Coull, M., ... & Gimona, A. (2021) The advantages and limitations of global datasets to assess carbon stocks as proxy for land degradation in an Ethiopian case study. Geoderma 399, 115117.
- Santika, T., Budiharta, S., Law, E.A., Dennis, R.A., Dohong, A., Struebig, M.J., Gunawan, H., Meijaard, E. and Wilson, K.A., 2020. Interannual climate variation, land type and village livelihood effects on fires in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Global Environmental Change 64, 102129.
- Santika, T., Wilson, K.A., Meijaard, E., Budiharta, S., Law, E.E., Sabri, M., Struebig, M., Ancrenaz, M. and Poh, T.M., 2019. Changing landscapes, livelihoods and village welfare in the context of oil palm development. Land Use Policy 87, 104073.
- Cerretelli, S., Poggio, L., Gimona, A., Yakob, G., Boke, S., Habte, M., ... & Black, H. (2018) Spatial assessment of land degradation through key ecosystem services: the role of globally available data. Science of the Total Environment 628, 539-555.
- Lara-Estrada, L., Rasche, L. and Schneider, U.A., 2017. Modeling land suitability for Coffea arabica L. in Central America. Environmental Modelling & Software 95, 196-209.
- Santika, T., McAlpine, C.A., Lunney, D., Wilson, K.A. and Rhodes, J.R., 2015. Assessing spatio‐temporal priorities for species’ recovery in broad‐scale dynamic landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology 52, 832-840.
Design and evaluation of development and conservation initiatives
In any development or conservation setting, it is necessary to know whether a program is successful in delivering the intended outcomes. Impact evaluation goes beyond describing the observed outcomes to seeking to understand the role or causal attribution of the initiative in producing these outcomes. It does not only produce findings about what works, but also information about why it works and what is required to make the initiative succeed for different groups or communities in different areas and contexts. The increasing availability of geospatial data, either derived from satellite or censuses, at fine spatial and temporal resolution, together with statistically robust impact evaluation methodology has provided new opportunities to rigorously evaluate and monitor development or conservation initiatives at lower costs, both monetary and time. This evaluation approach does not seek to replace but rather complement detailed local qualitative and quantitative assessments of incentives for land-users and communities to support conservation.
Project: Agroforests: a critical resource for megadiversity in Guatemala. Darwin Initiative, 2011–15
The aims of the project were to:
- Identify the role and potential of agroforestry systems to sustain biodiversity in agroforest/forest/agriculture mosaics.
- Identify the incentives of land-owners to maintain biodiverse production systems.
- Support land-owners in accessing incentives to conserve biodiverse production systems
- Provide policy recommendations to public and private bodies on how to improve incentives to landowners to conserve biodiversity.
Partners: Centre for Environmental and Biodiversity Studies, Universidad del Valle in Guatemala https://www.uvg.edu.gt/investigacion/ceab/; Defensores de la Naturaleza (https://defensores.org.gt/en/fundacion-defensores-de-la-naturaleza-2/), and National Coffee Association (www.anacafe.org).
NRI researchers: Truly Santika, Jeremy Haggar, Diego Naziri
- Haggar J. Gracioli C., Springate S. (2021) Land sparing or sharing: strategies for conservation of arable plant diversity. Journal for Nature Conservation https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnc.2021.125986
- Haggar J, Pons D, Saenz L, Vides J (2019) Contribution of agroforestry systems to sustaining biodiversity in fragmented forest landscapes. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment: 283 106567 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agee.2019.06.006
- Haggar J; Soto G; Casanoves F; de Melo Virginio E (2017) Environmental-economic trade-offs and benefits of sustainably certified coffee farms. Ecological Indicators 79: 330-337 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.04.023
- Santika, T., Wilson, K.A., Law, E.A., St John, F.A., Carlson, K.M., Gibbs, H., Morgans, C.L., Ancrenaz, M., Meijaard, E. and Struebig, M.J., 2021. Impact of palm oil sustainability certification on village well-being and poverty in Indonesia. Nature Sustainability 4, 109-119.
- Santika, T., Wilson, K.A., Budiharta, S., Law, E.A., Poh, T.M., Ancrenaz, M., Struebig, M.J. and Meijaard, E., 2019. Does oil palm agriculture help alleviate poverty? A multidimensional counterfactual assessment of oil palm development in Indonesia. World Development 120, 105-117.
- Santika, T., Meijaard, E., Budiharta, S., Law, E.A., Kusworo, A., Hutabarat, J.A., Indrawan, T.P., Struebig, M., Raharjo, S., Huda, I. and Ekaputri, A.D., 2017. Community forest management in Indonesia: Avoided deforestation in the context of anthropogenic and climate complexities. Global Environmental Change 46, 60-71.
Crop ecophysiology and resilience to temperature stress
Understanding how fundamental plant processes including photosynthesis and respiration respond to temperature stress, due to climate change, could enable researchers, farmers and local communities develop climate-smart crops, and resilient farming and natural systems. Such outcomes will contribute towards meeting the increasing global demand for nutritious food and a sustainable ecosystem. Our works spans the agricultural and natural systems, and scales from plants and crops to farm, national and global levels.
Project: A national approach to improving heat tolerance in wheat through more efficient carbon allocation, Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC) 2016-2021 (GRDC US00080)
Heat damage is one of the most regular and limiting constraints to Australian wheat production. Average annual economic losses from heat damage exceed $1 billion, which predominantly arise from heat shock or longer-term temperatures above optimum during the reproductive and grain filling stages. This project examines the mechanistic bases of heat tolerance to build capacity in fundamental understanding of the processes that truncate grain filling after heat events, processes underlying heat-induced changes in night respiration and morphological and physiological traits that ameliorate heat damage. The project will use a national approach with field trials in representative locations most affected by heat damage across Australia, combined with detailed controlled environment and lab-based research on materials that have been genotyped and partially phenotyped under the GRDC project US00057, as well as benchmark varieties and new breeding lines. Physiological and molecular traits will be identified that enable yield maintenance after heat events, which will inform wheat breeding and development of high throughput phenotyping. Three PhD students will be trained in field and lab-based research related to heat tolerance in grain crops, maintaining the expertise within the Australian grains industry and supporting future sustainability and competitiveness of the industry.
Project: Photosynthetic acclimation to high temperature in wheat, GRDC 2019-2021 (aligned with GRDC US00080)
In wheat, a major process inhibited by high temperature is the conversion of sunlight into yield (i.e. photosynthesis). However, the extent by which photosynthesis is inhibited varies from cultivar to cultivar. The cultivar differences are underlined by varied responses of specific aspects of the photosynthetic processes and their ability to acclimate to high temperature. In this project we will: (i) fine-tune a novel, high throughput technique of screening large collections of wheat cultivars for variation in response of photosynthesis to high temperature; and (ii) investigate mechanisms underlining high temperature tolerance in wheat. Project outputs will include identifying high temperature tolerant wheat varieties, and providing breeders with a much faster tool for selecting wheat genotypes with better capacity of photosynthetic acclimation to high temperature. These actions would: (i) enable wheat breeders to develop and make available to Australian farmers wheat varieties with superior yield and adaptation to high temperatures than current commercial varieties; and (ii) build greater resilience into the Australian wheat farming industry.
Partners: The University of Sydney, The Australian National University, The University of Newcastle, Australian Grains Technologies.
NRI researcher: Onoriode Coast
- Scafaro, A.P., Fan, Y., Posch, B.C., Garcia, A., Coast, O. and Atkin, O.K., 2021. Responses of leaf respiration to heatwaves. Plant, Cell & Environment https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.14018
- Coast, O., Posch, B.C., Bramley, H., Gaju, O., Richards, R.A., Lu, M., Ruan, Y.L., Trethowan, R. and Atkin, O.K. 2021. Acclimation of leaf photosynthesis and respiration to warming in field-grown wheat. Plant, Cell & Environment https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.13971
- Coast, O., Shah, S., Ivakov, A., Gaju, O., Wilson, P.B., Posch, B.C., Bryant, C.J., Negrini, A.C.A., Evans, J.R., Condon, A.G., Silva‐Pérez, V., Reynolds, M.P., Pogson, B.J., Millar, A.H., Furbank, R.T. and Atkin, O.K. 2019. Predicting dark respiration rates of wheat leaves from hyperspectral reflectance. Plant, Cell & Environment 42(7), 2133–2150 https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.13544
- Posch, B.C., Kariyawasam, B.C., Bramley, H., Coast, O., Richards, R.A., Reynolds, M.P., Trethowan, R. and Atkin, O.K. 2019. Exploring high temperature responses of photosynthesis and respiration to improve heat tolerance in wheat. Journal of Experimental Botany 70(19), 5051–5069 https://doi.org/10.1093/jxb/erz257
Ongoing project: Global photosynthetic thermal tolerance, 2017-date
Physiological sensitivities of species to changes in their thermal environment can influence species performance, fitness, range shifts, community composition and global species distributions. On a global scale, terrestrial ectotherms and endotherms show increasing thermal tolerance with latitude and temperature variability. Understanding correlations between plant photosynthetic thermal tolerance and extreme temperatures are potentially more useful for predicting plant distribution and survival, particularly in our warming and more variable climate.
Partners: The Australian National University; University of Bergen, Norway; The University of Queensland, Australia; University of Technology Sydney, Australia; Deakin University, Australia; Macquarie University, Australia; Shenzhen University, China; Universidad de los Andes, Colombia.
NRI researcher: Onoriode Coast
- Geange, S.R., Arnold, P.A., Catling, A.A., Coast, O., Cook, A.M., Gowland, K.M., Leigh, A., Notarnicola, R.F., Posch, B.C., Venn, S.E., Zhu, L. and Nicotra, A.B. 2021. The thermal tolerance of photosynthetic tissues: a global systematic review and roadmap for future research. New Phytologist 229(5), 2497–2513 https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.17052
Rediscovering Coffee in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone has been a coffee producer and exporter since the mid 1800s. In the 1800s it produced two kinds of coffee now little known, the native Sierra Leone Highland Coffee Coffea stenophylla and Liberian coffee C. liberica. Subsequently during the 1900s these seem to have been displaced by the more productive Robusta Coffee C. canephora; although it is considered of lower quality than its commercial rival Arabica coffee and mainly used for instant coffee.
Project: Robusta Coffee Rehabilitation Project
Fast forward to the early 2000s and Sierra Leone’s coffee sector was in poor shape after over a decade of civil war and abandonment of plantations. The recovery of the coffee sector was the focus of the Robusta Coffee Rehabilitation Project funded by the EU and led by NRI with Welthungerhilfe from 2013-2016. The project supported 10,000 coffee farmers to plant 1.8 million new coffee trees and rehabilitate over 2500 ha of coffee. For more information on the project see:
Project: Conservation and use of native coffee species in Sierra Leone
At the same time, we became aware that there used to be a native coffee C. stenophylla, and that it was considered of high quality, as good as Arabica coffee. We initiated a search for this coffee among the 10,000 farmers and their organizations, and although they found many strange and interesting coffee variations they were all types of Robusta or Liberian coffee. In 2018 with funding from the Darwin Initiative we returned to Sierra Leone to search of this native coffee in the wild with the international expert on wild coffee species, Dr Aaron Davis from Kew. In short, we found a small number of plants in a couple of forest reserves, but no seed to test the quality. In 2020 our collaborators in Sierra Leone managed to collect a small sample of seed and we were able to prove that its taste is equivalent to a high-quality Arabica coffee. This is even more important because C. stenophylla grows at low altitudes in the tropics and is thus considerably more tolerant of higher temperatures than Arabica which is a montane species. An attribute that may be critical for the future of coffee production in a warming world.
For more information see:
NRI researcher: Jeremy Haggar
Partners: Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and Welthungerhilfe.
- Davis AP, Mieulet D, Moat J, Sarmu D, Haggar J (2021) Arabica-like flavour in a heat-tolerant wild coffee species. Nature Plants: doi.org/10.1038/s41477-021-00891-4
- Davis AP, Gargiulo R, Fay MF, Sarmu D, Haggar J (2020) Lost and found: Coffea stenophylla and C. affinis, the forgotten coffee crop species of West Africa. Frontiers in Plant Science: doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2020.00616