PS 38-98 - Proposing integrated ecological and nutritional indicators for agroecosystem resilience

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Exhibit Hall, Oregon Convention Center
Anne Elise Stratton, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, Laura Kuhl, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Medford, MA and Jennifer Blesh, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan

The resilience of agricultural ecosystems (“agroecosystems”) stems from a suite of factors at multiple scales. At the farm scale, management decisions result in cascading social, ecological, and nutritional effects that represent adaptive or maladaptive feedbacks. Increased functional diversity and complexity in agricultural ecosystems can trigger adaptive feedbacks, resulting in improved soil and plant health. Agroecological management practices such as diversifying crop functional traits and rotations, relying on species diversity and associated biotic interactions for ecosystem function, can thereby contribute to resilience. Recent evidence suggests that context-specific agroecological techniques such as planting species with complementary nutritional functions, intercropping, and incorporating cover crops and perennials can lead to improved nutritional adequacy of produce for human consumption. Thus, agroecological management may enhance resilience by affecting both ecological and nutritional factors. Prior frameworks for assessing agroecosystem resilience have not connected ecological and nutritional dimensions and rarely include nutritional outcomes as indicators of resilience. We hypothesize that smallholder agricultural practices either enhance both ecological and nutritional properties, seen by a corresponding increase in resilience indicators, or work to their collective detriment. We demonstrate the utility of integrated indicators through qualitative analysis of agroecosystem resilience based on interview data from smallholder households in eastern Guatemala.


Integrated ecological and nutritional indicators incorporate the diversity and stability of agricultural production as part of a more complete assessment of agroecosystem resilience. Some examples of nutritional indicators include household food security, nutritional functional diversity, dietary diversity, and crop nutrient composition and quality. Each indicator has a proxy metric based on farmer management practices and ecological function (e.g., farm-level agrobiodiversity, staple crop yield and nutritional quality) and is paired with a previously proposed ecological indicator for agroecosystem resilience. We tested integrated indicators in a case study of maize smallholders in Sarstún, Guatemala. Our preliminary analyses indicate that the use of integrated indicators that co-value ecological and nutritional functions of agroecosystems enabled us to characterize 98% of smallholder households (out of 60 interviewed) into groups exhibiting either adaptive or maladaptive feedbacks. Qualitative data illustrated that farmers who invested time, labor, and land resources in ecological practices, such as use of the leguminous cover crop Mucuna pruriens, reducing agrochemical inputs, and planting a greater diversity of crop species and functional groups demonstrated adaptive feedbacks and improved agroecosystem resilience (48%). Integrated indicators for these farmers revealed relatively improved soil fertility, nutritional functional diversity, and nutritional quality of maize produced compared to baseline values.