Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 1033–1045 | Cite as

Energy in a woodland-livestock agroecosystem: Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1870–2010

  • Joshua MacFadyen
  • Andrew Watson
Original Article


This article presents historic energy profiles in order to understand the changing roles of three critical energy flows in eastern Canadian agroecosystems. The first flow is the societally useful energy that farms produced in crops, animal products, and forest resources. This flow stabilized after colonization and then intensified with the introduction of fossil fuel inputs. The second flow consists of these external inputs, including human labor and the energy embodied in machinery, fuel, and fertilizers. The final flow is the biomass from within the agroecosystem itself. Farmers removed this biomass from their final produce and recycled it as feed for animals, seed for crops, and fencing for livestock management. This article presents evidence on these energy flows from a set of case studies in Northeastern North America. Prince Edward Island (PEI) offers a study of energy transitions in a frontier agroecosystem at the farm, township, county, and the bounded provincial scales. This study uses time points from the 1881, 1931, 1951, and 1996 censuses, as well other statistics. The energy in land produce remained stable during the socio-ecological transition because of the importance of forest products. Results at the sub-county scale demonstrate complementary components within the larger provincial system, and the example of one farm (1877–1892) illustrates specialized energy strategies within the advanced organic regime. After the socio-ecological transition, external inputs remained lower than expected, but together with the steady growth of livestock, they ensured that biomass energy inputs were more productive in the mineral regime than they had been in the organic period.


Agroecosystem energy Canadian agriculture Agri-forestry Long-term socio-ecological research Energy transition 



We thank Simone Gingrich and other members of the Sustainable Farm Systems energy working group, the editors of the “Energy in Agroecosystems” special issue, and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable input. We thank Geoff Cunfer for his help developing the energy model diagrams.

Funding information

We acknowledge the support from the Canadian Social Science and Humanities Research Council (“SFS”, Partnership Grant 895-2011-1020).

Supplementary material

10113_2018_1315_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 30 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Historical Philosophical and Religious Studies and School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Department of HistoryUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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