An agricultural ecosystem, which is also known as an agroecosystem, is a place where agricultural production—a farm, for example—is understood as an ecosystem. When something like a farm field is examined from an ecosystem viewpoint, food production can be understood as part of a whole, including the complex kinds of materials entering the system, or inputs, and the materials leaving the system, or outputs. At the same time, the ways that all of the parts of the system are interconnected and interact are of great importance.
Humans alter and manipulate ecosystems for the purpose of establishing agricultural production, and in the process, can make the resulting agroecosystem very different from a natural ecosystem. At the same time, however, by understanding how ecosystem processes, structures, and characteristics are modified, management of an agricultural system can become more stable, less dependent on inputs brought in from outside the system, and more protective of the natural resources with which it may interact.
Scientists who study agricultural systems as ecosystems are known as agroecologists, and the field they work in is known as agroecology. An agro-ecologist applies the concepts and principles of ecology to the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. Sustainability refers to the ability to preserve the productivity of agricultural land over the long term, protect the natural resources upon which that productivity depends, provide farming communities with a fair and prosperous way of life, and produce a secure and healthy food supply for people who do not live on the farms. The challenge these scientists face is developing agroecosystems that achieve natural ecosystem-like characteristics while maintaining a harvest output. With a goal of sustainability, a farm manager strives as much as possible to use the ecosystem concept in designing and managing the agroecosystem. In doing so, the following four key traits of ecosystems are included.
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