The W.K. Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research program at Michigan State University is one of 28 such National Science Foundation sites in the country. It’s the only one dedicated to understanding the ecology of agricultural systems.
Established in 1989, the program studies how agriculture can be environmentally friendly without reducing crop yields. It recently received a seventh round of funding from the National Science Foundation. The grant of $7.65 million began in December 2022 and will run through November 2028. That extends the project’s research to 40 years.
“We’ve inherited an incredible set of experiments and data from the past three decades and now, with this grant, we’re looking at a bright future for the program,” said Nick Haddad, a professor in the Michigan State University-Department of Integrative Biology and a faculty member of the Kellogg station. “The grant provides the opportunity to answer new questions about how ecological systems are responding to global environmental changes and how we’ll work to understand the resilience of our ecosystems."
Because climate-change projections reveal an increase in short and intense droughts as well as varied precipitation and increased temperatures during the Midwest growing season, the station’s scientists will help farmers and policymakers understand how crops can withstand the changes. Researchers will continue to test if harnessing biodiversity can improve agriculture. They’re introducing strips of prairie habitat throughout corn and soybean croplands.
Establishing biodiversity on small-sized prairie lands may take many years. But once microbes, plants, insect predators and pollinators are established, scientists can determine if their presence has a positive effect on soil health and crop yields.
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“By synthesizing the work from the last six years and finding salient themes, we formulated new hypotheses to test with new studies,” said Sarah Evans, an associate professor of the Michigan State University-Department of Integrative Biology and faculty member of the Kellogg station. “We’re pushing science forward on all fronts in a variety of fields."
The program’s research has a broad impact on multiple industries and communities.
- “Landscapes for Biodiversity” involves incorporating conservation and biodiversity, such as prairie strips, into existing farmland.
- “Carbon for Croplands” is a new incentive focused on less-intense approaches to farming, such as reduced tillage to sequester carbon in soils and reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.
- “Ecology for All” endeavors to lift historical barriers for working in and using ecology in the agricultural sector.
“We’re always trying to innovate and integrate research across multiple disciplines, acknowledging that any agricultural decisions are based on values and economics as well as ecology,” Evans said.
Haddad and Evans led the grant proposal, “Ecological and Social Mechanisms of Resilience in Agroecosystems.” In it they detail the program’s new focus on climate change and land-use change.
Visit kbs.msu.edu and integrativebiology.natsci.msu.edu and nsf.gov for more information.