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Agroforestry and the functional mimicry of natural ecosystems


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Lefroy, EC 2009 , 'Agroforestry and the functional mimicry of natural ecosystems', in B Nuberg and R Reid and B George (eds.), Agroforestry for natural resource management , CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, pp. 23-35.

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This chapter examines the idea that agroforestry
systems designed as structural and functional
mimics of natural ecosystems could address the
resource depletion and land degradation typical of
conventional tillage agriculture. Four questions
relating to this concept are examined. Is it necessary
to mimic structure to achieve functional goals? Does
perenniality inevitably imply a trade-off in productivity?
Can competition be managed in synthetic
polycultures of trees and crops? How can these complex
farming systems be successfully managed to
ensure a return to the farmer? It is concluded that,
while natural ecosystems can serve as models for
tighter cycling of water and nutrients, it is not necessary
to assemble close structural mimics to achieve
functional goals, and the altered soil and water conditions
of most agricultural landscapes reduce the
relevance of the pre-agricultural plant communities
as models. Second, natural ecosystems tell us nothing
about maximising harvestable product. We must
turn to other strategies to ensure agroforestry systems
are productive, notably artificial breeding aud
selection in the search for high-value products and
services. Third, in mixtures of woody and herbaceous
plants, competition tends to rule, particularly
in the water-limited environments typical of southern
Australia, and trees tend to win, requiring careful
design and management of the interactions
between trees and crops. Fourth, in terms of adoption
and management, woody perennial systems are
less flexible than conventional agriculture, have
longer lag time to returns and higher investment
costs, and are less easily trialled. While these obstacles
are not insurmountable, they collectively suggest
that using agroforestry to mimic patch dynamics
and exploit unused resources at landscape scale is
more likely to achieve improved natural resource
management in southern Australia than the smaller scale
approach of mimicking the structure and function
of natural plant communities at paddock scale.

Item Type: Book Section
Authors/Creators:Lefroy, EC
Keywords: agriculture forestry agroforestry natural resource management
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Additional Information:

© 2009 CSIRO

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