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.

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 leading 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

  • Haney, C. H., Wiesmann, C. L., Shapiro, L. R., Melnyk, R. A., O'Sullivan, L. R., Khorasani, S., . . . Ausubel, F. M. (2018). Rhizosphere‐associated pseudomonas induce systemic resistance to herbivores at the cost of susceptibility to bacterial pathogens. Molecular Ecology, 27(8), 1833-1847.
  • Heckelman, A., Smukler, S., & Wittman, H. (2018). Cultivating climate resilience: A participatory assessment of organic and conventional rice systems in the Philippines. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 33(3), 225-237.
  • Lathuillière, M. J., Dalmagro, H. J., Black, T. A., Arruda, P. H. Z. d., Hawthorne, I., Couto, E. G., & Johnson, M. S. (2018). Rain-fed and irrigated cropland-atmosphere water fluxes and their implications for agricultural production in Southern Amazonia. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 256-257, 407-419. doi:10.1016/j.agrformet.2018.03.023
  • Mehrabi, Z., Ellis, E. C., & Ramankutty, N. (2018). The challenge of feeding the world while conserving half the planet. Nature Sustainability 1(1), 409–412.
  • Ramankutty, N., Mehrabi, Z., Waha, K., Jarvis, L., Kremen, C., Herrero, M., & Rieseberg, L. H. (2018). Trends in global agricultural land use: Implications for environmental health and food security. Annual Review of Plant Biology, 69(1), 789-815.

    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.