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Modelling and Monitoring Agro-ecological Mosaic Ecosystem Sustainability

Human wellbeing and livelihoods rely on ecosystem services, so managing agricultural landscapes for their sustainability is critical. Data-analysis tools can help producers optimize their land and support their decision making, as well as identify economically feasible opportunities for biodiversity conservation within farms.


Principal investigator: Madhur Anand
Other investigators: Clarence Swanton, Aaron Berg, Evan Fraser, Nigel Raine

What challenge does Modelling and Monitoring Agro-ecological Mosaic Ecosystem Sustainability address?

Balancing food demands and biodiversity conservation and ecosystem services is one of the major current challenges societies face. This requires that we learn to better manage agricultural landscapes and develop tools to optimize the use of the land, allowing for both the intensification of agricultural production and the sustainability of ecosystem services such as soil health, pollination, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

How will this research address the challenge?

This team’s research is taking place using three approaches. First, they are examining the effect of different land uses (e.g. crop types, urban areas) on ecosystem services (i.e. native biodiversity, pollination). Madhur Anand (PI) and Virginia Capmourteres are coordinating the work of two MSc students: who are looking at the effect of land use on plant functional diversity and ecosystem function and studying the effect of different crops and other land uses on plant communities and associated pollinators. The team has been sampling and identifying pollinators in collaboration with Nigel Raine. The Credit Valley and Toronto Region Conservation authorities have provided us with vegetation data.


This is an image showcasing the Credit River Watershed, pollinator sampling sites and pan traps for pollinators. On the left is the Credit River Watershed with a red line tracing the area - it goes from the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Oakville and around Mississauga, west to Halton Hills and Caledon. On the upper right are the pollinator sampling sites with coloured pins on green grass. Below that is a pollinator inside a pollinator trap.

Figure contributed by Dr. Anand with the Credit River Watershed, pollinator sampling sites and pan traps for pollinators

Figure showing land use analysis. On the left: Agriculture Resource Inventory classification of study area. On the right: zoomed in area to appreciate the heterogeneity of the landscape.

Figure contributed by Dr. Anand showing land use analysis

Second, the team is developing a profit mapping tool. For this, Clarence Swanton has been coordinating with Woodrill Farms Ltd. and Veritas, who are providing precision agriculture data. Virginia Capmourteres has collaborated with Aaron Berg and Evan Fraser, on a tool to map areas of high and low profitability in agricultural fields. This benefits producers —who can better target input application and maximize their profits— and biodiversity conservation —as lands that are not good for agriculture can be set aside for conservation without economic impacts to the farmer.

To complement this, Aaron Berg and his lab have investigating the use of aerial sensors to assess various attributes of agricultural fields including soil health and landscape features. Third, the team will develop integrative models to examine production, conservation, and ecosystem services trade-offs, led by Virginia Capmourteres, and supervised by Madhur Anand.

Figure showing profitability mapping. On the top is the profit mapping method: we convert yield maps into profit maps. On the bottom: some conservation strategies proposed - wildflowers, alfalfa, red clover, buckwheat, peas-oats and Phacelia sp.

Figure contributed by Dr. Anand showing profitability mapping

What impact will this project have on agriculture?

The results will improve and adapt the management of agricultural landscapes to ensure the sustainability of ecosystem services—the benefits that humans obtain from the environment, including agricultural production. The profit mapping tool will enable producers to identify areas with returns on investment and areas that are unprofitable. Producers will thus be able to better manage and optimize their land —control inputs, begin a soil health recovery plan— or even take areas out of production and set them aside to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Other information

Partners: Credit Valley Conservation Area, Toronto Region Conservation Area, Woodrill Farms Ltd., Mark Wilson, Veritas.

Collaborators and students: Virginia Capmourteres, Liane Miedema, Marcel Van Heijst.

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