Diversified Agroecosystems Research Cluster

Diversified Agroecosystems Research Cluster

Our research cluster is developing novel approaches to assess linked social and ecological outcomes of diversified agroecosystems.

Uniquely positioned as a research excellence cluster based at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, our team members use ecological, social, economic and systems analysis perspectives to improve soil and water quality, minimize nutrient losses, protect biodiversity, and support climate resilience and food sovereignty.


Introducing the Diversified Agroecosystems Research Cluster

The Diversified Agroecosystems Research Cluster aims to leverage the research excellence represented by CSFS members and global partners to evaluate diversified agroecosystems. Using ecological and systems analysis perspectives for integrated research on bioenergy, water resources, and food production, members will work to maximize crop yields, improve soil quality and biodiversity, and minimize nutrient losses to the environment. The network brings together leading researchers worldwide to create a novel, next-generation, grassroots generated and open-data food systems approach to assessing linked social and ecological outcomes of diversified agricultural systems.

Develop a Coordinated Distributed Experimental Network

The principal objective of the cluster is to develop a Coordinated Distributed Experimental Network (CDEN) to build a global dataset on diversified farming practices and ecosystem services. The UBC Farm will be a central hub in a Coordinated Distributed Experimental Network (CDEN) of diversified research farms. The cluster will develop and implement long-term experimental protocols to examine the trade-offs and synergies in diversified agroecosystems, using the UBC Farm as a living laboratory, alongside 7-10 other leading research universities in Canada, USA, and Latin America.

Advance an open source technology platform for Data-Driven Agroecology

The cluster aims to advance an open-source prototype farm management software to aid in the integrated assessment of farming systems outcomes on organic, integrated, smallholder and diversified farming systems. Over the past year, a prototype for a farm management software application at the UBC Farm has been developed. The long-term plan is to work with Cluster members and their networks to build a digital experimental monitoring network that can be used to inform data-driven agroecology.


Meet Our Members


Cluster Developments

June 12-14, 2018 at the UBC Farm

The Cluster hosted its first CDEN Research Design Workshop at UBC Farm, with local and global researchers. The goal of the workshop was to establish the CDEN experimental design and develop collaborative and transformative action research - moving from applied and fundamental research questions in agroecosystem research to action. The workshop included discussions on replicated experiments on crucial areas such as nutrient management, biodiversity and food security. See workshop discussion notes here.

The research included characterising the level of diversification across farm systems over time, and space to explore socio-ecological outcomes, and investigating the barriers to diversification across scales. In addition, investigating diversified systems and trade-offs between ecosystem services including biodiversity, soil health, labour, profit, food and nutrition security, cultural values.

The workshop laid the foundation for an experimental network of diversified farming systems research and developed research on thematic areas:

  • Methodological Standards and Protocols
  • Diversification Transitions
  • Experimental Campus Farm Network
  • Observational Agroecology and Big Data

The Cluster is continuing the development of these research areas and collaboration.

Cluster researcher Dr. Mark Johnson received funding to establish a “living laboratory for water sustainability” at UBC Farm through UBC Sustainability Campus as a Living Laboratory initiative.

Mark’s team is working hard to install and test soil moisture sensors, flow meters, data loggers, and an integrated weather station so that the laboratory is continuously collecting data and situated to inform management practices during the next growing season.

This project will:

  • Advance water innovation at UBC by integrating research, teaching, and learning on water sustainability with academic, public sector, and industrial partners
  • Enable long-term water and climate monitoring at UBC Farm
  • Inform the development of the UBC Farm Water Management Plan and Irrigation Plan with innovative and evidence-based strategies that can be applied across UBC Campus and beyond
  • Reduce UBC water use and UBC Farm water footprint
  • Enable learning and knowledge mobilization through engagement with diverse campus and agri-food communities on water conservation
  • Advance UBC Farm as a platform for innovative water sustainability research for urban agriculture and climate change that can inform best practices on water management and irrigation

Cluster members Dr. Dorn Cox and Dr. Zia Mehrabi are part of teams developing open-source farm management tools that will enable farmers to make data-informed decisions about their management practices.

Dorn is a founder of FarmOS, an open-source web-based application for farm management, planning, and record-keeping. Zia is the project lead of LiteFarm, an open-source farm management app developed by UBC undergraduate students. Additionally, Zia plays a leading role in the establishment of a Data-Driven Agronomy Working Group at the CGIAR.

As part of the LFS 496 Career Development Internship program, two undergraduate students trialled FarmOS using UBC Farm datasets. Their main goals were to determine how compatible FarmOS is with UBC Farm’s current data management system, and how well FarmOS provides the capabilities that UBC Farm’s system currently lacks. They documented this trial and provided recommendations to the FarmOS development team in a summary report. With undergraduate engagement through internship and work-learn programs, we will trial LiteFarm and other farm management tools in 2019, with a focus on integrated pest management and biodiversity monitoring, integrated nutrient management, and integrated water management.

Cluster members Dr. Hannah Wittman, Dr. Navin Ramankutty, Dr. Loren Rieseberg, Dr. Matt Mitchell, Dr. Zia Mehrabi, and Dr. Claire Kremen have received funding for and planned an International Roundtable on Citizen Science and Agrobiodiversity at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies in May 2019.

The purpose of the workshop is to debate and socialize thinking about innovative monitoring solutions at the intersection of food security and biodiversity conservation, in particular the development of assessment models for agrobiodiversity and food security that involve citizen science initiatives and new policy. Invited participants include both Cluster members and external researchers who are experts in agrobiodiversity, food security, and citizen science.

  • Documentation of framework, protocols, and strategies for long-term measurement and tracking of agroecological indicators at UBC Farm
  • Documentation of UBC Farm Crop Rotation Strategy
  • Documentation of UBC Farm Harvest and Processing Guidelines
  • Documentation of organic management practices related to nutrients, irrigation, and pests at UBC Farm


Highlighted Publications



Collaborative Opportunities

The Cluster seeks partnerships with global, regional and local institutions, civil societies and agroecosystems networks to develop the Coordinated Distributed Experimental Network (CDEN) and Data-Driven Agronomy technology platform, and for co-creation of innovative strategies for diversified agroecosystems management that are specific to local contexts.

For more information or to connect with the cluster, please email Hannah Wittman.
UBC Research Excellence Clusters is a joint initiative of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic and the Vice-President, Research and Innovation. Clusters receive financial support from UBC’s Excellence Funds.