About this Research Topic
Agroforestry is a land use system that combines trees (for timber or fruit) and/or shrubs with crops and/or animal husbandry, based on agroecology principles.
Agroforestry systems have a long tradition in Mediterranean-type ecosystems where they are diverse and comprise five main practices: silvoarable systems, silvopastoral systems, forest farming, riparian buffer strips and windbreaks/hedgerows. Intensification, mechanization and depopulation of marginal areas have rendered traditional Mediterranean agroforestry practices to be considered obsolete by decision-makers, and in many situations these systems are abandoned or converted to intensive agriculture, pastures or forests. On the other hand, present agricultural, animal husbandry and forestry systems, mostly monocultures, are highly specialized productions, subjected to economic pressures and responsible for many local and regional environmental impacts. Recent findings highlight the regulating and supporting services provided by agroforestry that may be especially important facing highly erratic economic scenarios and dynamic environmental conditions predicted for the near future in Mediterranean-type areas. In fact, planted trees among “crops” (silvoarable or alley cropping) contribute to carbon sequestration, functional biodiversity, reduce soil erosion, control microclimates (radiation, temperature, humidity, wind), increase soil fertility, retain agrochemicals and are able to recycle water and nutrients from deeper layers. The development of novel tree “crop” combinations in Mediterranean-type ecosystems and the sustainable management of existing ones is only possible if we are able to understand and predict the functioning of agroforestry, link practices with ecosystem services and prove that these systems are a viable option for rural areas, namely facing uncertain and evolving forecasted environmental conditions. Considering their future ecological and economic relevance, the investments and conservation of agroforestry practices requires the understanding of their capacity to withstand and recover from disturbances imposed by natural and anthropogenic factors (e.g. climate change).
Ecological modeling provides useful tools to study these complex systems by predicting the outcome of alternative scenarios and may help guide the management options from projected future outcomes. Models linked and parametrized with real data studies could support resilient farms while mitigating climate change and even increase productivity following the climate smart agriculture principles provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization. Static, dynamic, spatial and spatio-temporal models can be used to support the understanding of complex ecological processes. When properly developed, tested and applied with insight and with respect for their underlying assumptions, models could simulate conditions that are difficult or impossible to produce otherwise. Also, trade-offs between provisioning (i.e. productions), regulating (e.g. nutrient retention, mitigating greenhouse gas emission) and supporting (e.g. soil structure, water regulation and functional biodiversity support) services are especially important for estimating the interest of practitioners, possibilities and sustainability of investing in agroforestry.
The scope of this Research Topic is modeling agroforestry systems in Mediterranean areas with a special emphasis on their associated services, and their viability and long-term sustainability facing new environmental conditions predicted for the future. This collection welcomes original contributions that offer new and fundamental insights into the origins, development, and function of tree “crop” combinations, from the molecular to the whole organisms/species interactions within the biotic and abiotic environment, including quantitative omics studies (transcriptomics, proteomics, metabolomics).
Keywords: Agroforestry, Mediterranean biome, Climate Change, Ecological Modeling, Biodiversity
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