Stabilizing food production through crop diversity
With increasing demand for food by the planet's growing human population, and climate change threatening the stability of food systems around the world, University of Minnesota researchers affiliated with NSF's Cedar Creek Long-Term Ecological Research site examined how a nation's crop diversity could increase its harvest stability.
The results, published in the journal Nature, looked at 50 years of data (1961-2010) on annual yields of 176 crop species in 91 nations to determine how stable and predictable the food supply is in each country. This is the first research of its kind to look at the relationship between crop diversity and food stability on the scale of nations.
The researchers found that countries with some of the lowest crop diversities experienced a severe food shortage about every eight years; those with some of the highest crop diversities experienced a severe food shortage about every 100 years; and that robust irrigation capabilities have significant stabilizing effects on crop production, leading to fewer years with severe food shortages.
"Food security is becoming a critical issue worldwide," says Colette St. Mary, a program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research. "This study brings the science of ecology to finding new solutions. The results offer help to what has become a global challenge."