Agricultural Ecology

Ermias Kebreab, Chair
Neal Williams, Chair

The Agroecology program, one of the degree options in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis, seeks students with a particular interest in three major areas of research:

  • Study of agricultural organisms, populations, communities, and their interactions at a systems level, in order to determine how ecological principles operate in an agricultural context.
  • Comparison of ecological and evolutionary processes in agricultural and natural ecosystems, and use of these comparisons to understand the major similarities and differences between agricultural and natural ecosystems.
  • Combining ecological principles with agronomic practice to manage agricultural systems for sustainable production, improved resource conservation, and minimized environmental impact.

Agricultural ecology encompasses many diverse interests and emerging problems, including the need to address growing pest and weed control problems, protect farmworker health, reduce pressure on supporting natural resources, ameliorate environmental impacts of agricultural operations and promote sustainable agricultural production. As a truly integrative science, agricultural ecology is unique in its scope of inquiry. Areas of research and application range from the physiological, population, and community ecology of organisms present in agricultural systems, to larger scales of agricultural systems and their regional and global impact on land, water and atmospheric resources. Agricultural ecology is also concerned with systems of agricultural production and management, including socio-economic aspects, farmer/research relations and extension.

The Agroecology program at UC Davis is in a unique position to take advantage of a synergistic relation between ecology and agriculture. Combining a wide base of resources from world renowned university programs in agriculture and ecology, the UCD Agroecology program is leading the way for new applications of ecological studies in agricultural systems. Research in the Agroecology program emphasizes the role ecology can play in increasing our understanding of processes at many levels of agricultural systems (e.g., weed-pest-crop interactions or soil microorganisms and chemical transformations in the soil column). The program is also interested in identifying common ecological processes underlying both agricultural and natural systems, and examining how agricultural systems can be integrated with natural systems (e.g., spatial scaling and stability in ecosystems, ecotones promoting multiple functions in agroecosystems). Ecological models may provide insight into problems facing modern agriculture and research results obtained in agricultural systems could make unique contributions to improved understanding of other ecological systems and principles.

The impact of agriculture on human society and the natural world raises some of the most important and imminent issues that we will face in the next century. The Agroecology program at UC Davis is approaching many of the most pressing questions and problems in agriculture through the application of ecological knowledge and research techniques. This synthesis of research and application at multiple scales across traditional disciplines provides a context for relevant and exciting study at the crossroads of natural and human-dominated ecological systems.