Basic principles of agroecology and sustainable agriculture

  • V. G. Thomas
  • P. G. Kevan


In the final analysis, sustainable agriculture must derive from applied ecology, especially the principle of the regulation of the abundance and distribution of species (and, secondarily, their activities) in space and time. Interspecific competition in natural ecosystems has its counterparts in agriculture, designed to divert greater amounts of energy, nutrients, and water into crops. Whereas natural ecosystems select for a diversity of species in communities, recent agriculture has minimized diversity in favour of vulnerable monocultures. Such systems show intrinsically less stability and resilience to perturbations. Some kinds of crop rotation resemble ecological succession in that one crop prepares the land for successive crop production. Such rotations enhance soil organic processes such as decomposition and material cycling, build a nutrient capital to sustain later crop growth, and reduce the intensity of pest buildup. Species in natural communities occur at discrete points along the r-K continuum of reproductive maturity. Clearing forested land for agriculture, rotational burning practices, and replacing perennial grassland communities by cereal monocultures moves the agricultural community towards the r extreme. Plant breeders select for varieties which yield at an earlier age and lower plant biomass, effectively moving a variety towards the r type. Features of more natural landscapes, such as hedgerows, may act as physical and biological adjuncts to agricultural production. They should exist as networks in agricultural lands to be most effective. Soil is of major importance in agroecosystems, and maintaining, deliberately, its vitality and resilience to agricultural perturbations is the very basis of sustainable land use.


agroecosystems agriculture ecology sustainability biodiversity competition succession culture 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. G. Thomas
    • 1
  • P. G. Kevan
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Zoology College of Biological ScienceUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Biology Ontario Agricultural CollegeUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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