Inspire Challenge

Sensing and Renewing Ecosystems

Sensing and understanding whole ecosystems to mitigate ecological fragility related to agricultural production

Agriculture is nested in a complex net of interactions between the biosphere, society, technology, and economy.  Ecosystems provide critical services in support of agricultural production such as improved pollination, prevention of soil erosion, mitigation of air or water pollution, reduced risk from pests and diseases, enhancing soil fertility, and many more.  Agriculture draws on and is supported by these natural, biological, and ecological systems, yet the complex interactions between and among them are not always measured adequately, understood fully, or acted on sufficiently or timely.

Accelerated and intensified agricultural production may exacerbate risks arising from the degradation or loss of these critical ecosystem services.  Homogenized landscapes, decimated genetic diversity, and accelerated loss of productive land and water are all potentially under-managed side effects of hyper-efficient productivity.  Systems theory tells us that increasing efficiency in only one facet of a complex system can make the whole system more fragile and subject to complete failure.

How can we claim the benefits of digital agriculture while safeguarding against ecosystem failure?  We need new mechanisms for sensing and understanding whole ecosystems and the social and economic drivers of ecosystem change.  We need to generate this understanding quickly and turn the insights into action such as through extension, policy, public-private partnerships, and more nimble methods of multi-stakeholder negotiation of what may be inevitable trade-offs in pursuit of sustainability.    

This Inspire project seeks to identify key ways to mitigate or reverse  ecological fragility related to agricultural production  – approaches that will reveal the complex interdependencies of human and ecological systems and–ideally–demonstrate agile ways to turn this insight into action for safeguarding or renewing sustainable ecosystem services.

Want more information?

See our FAQs page.