June 28, 2017

SIU researchers appear in special feature issue of “Journal of Ecology”

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – Plant biologist David Gibson wants to be part of the solution. The problem he has his eye on is the probability of an impending global food security crisis.

Gibson, professor of plant biology and a distinguished scholar at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the executive editor of the British Ecological Society’s “Journal of Ecology.” As such, he is familiar with the fundamentals of many aspects of plant ecological research, which typically focuses on natural settings.

However, for a special feature in the journal released last week, he and co-editor Richard Bardgett, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester in England, honed in on agriculture -- specifically, how plant ecological research could apply to modern agricultural practices and development.

“As global climate changes and the world population increases, agriculture faces an enormous challenge to increase food production in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he wrote in an editorial introducing the journal’s special feature. “Principals and concepts derived directly from plant ecological research can help meet this challenge.”

The “Journal of Ecology” special feature issue includes 10 “mini-reviews” by researchers in a range of plant ecological disciplines addressing areas of crossover between ecological and agricultural research.

“The papers in the special feature explore how basic research on plant ecological concepts can be of value in contributing to meeting the global food security challenge,” Gibson said. “The researchers also explore and identify knowledge gaps where plant ecologists can contribute to issues of improved yield, nutrition, ecosystem services and environmental resilience of agricultural systems, all in a sustainable manner.”

Gibson, along with SIU colleague Andrew J. Wood, professor of plant biology at SIU, and Bryan G. Young, formerly of the College of Agricultural Sciences at SIU and now at Purdue University, contributed one of the mini-reviews: “Can weeds enhance profitability? Integrating ecological concepts to address crop-weed competition and yield quality.”

The researchers studied weed systems that affect soybeans. They suggest that examining how different species of weeds interact with soybeans, including such factors as weed diversity weed evolutionary relationships, and weed function, will contribute to sustainable and integrated weed management solutions that will enhance, not stifle, agricultural production.

Other topics address increasing biodiversity via crop genetic diversity; management of weed and crop pollinator populations; and use of organic matter and cover crops’ root systems to increase soil fertility; and other areas.

The articles in the journal are available online at the “Journal of Ecology” website. This special feature is part of Volume 105, Issue 4: “Special Feature: Ecological Solutions to Global Food Security.”