Cropping Systems Ecology

Last changed: 25 October 2023

The Cropping Systems Ecology (CSE) subject area develops the knowledge on the interaction between crops, species in diversified crops, soil, weeds, cultivation methods and the environment. We use a systems perspective to consider environmental, economic and social sustainability of cropping and farming systems in Swedish and global conventional and organic farming. The CSE subject area includes three themes, based on the competences of the members: 1) Legumes for sustainable food systems, 2) Soil communities and processes, 3) Weed ecology and management. Most CSE members work across more than one theme.

Agroecology, cropping systems diversification and a systems perspective on the management of soil fertility and weeds are guiding principles in our research and teaching, with the aim to produce knowledge for the development of more sustainable cropping systems. We have competences within agroecology, crop production science, soil science, ecology, plant nutritional physiology, biogeochemistry, weed science, microbial ecology and chemistry. Our research is based on a variety of methodologies: field, greenhouse, growth chamber and laboratory experiments, meta-analysis, participatory research approaches and sustainability assessments (including economic, environmental and social dimensions). The subject area collaborates with colleagues at SLU within the cropping systems platform and in other contexts on teaching and research.

We teach within crop production, agroecology, soil and weed sciences and associated areas, at all academic levels, in English and Swedish. In our teaching, we use examples from our own research and collaboration with agricultural stakeholders, to inspire and provide knowledge that can easily be applied - within conventional and organic agriculture.

The CSE subject area is responsible for the SITES Lönnstorp field experimental station with about 80 ha of arable land (62 ha in conventional and 18 ha in organic farming), for field experimentation and monitoring. The CSE group employs the scientific and technical managers at SITES Lönnstorp as well as three technicians.
Links to ongoing projects:
Swedish Infrastructure for Terrestrial Ecosystems Science SITES 

SITES Agroecological Field Experiment (SAFE) with four cropping systems: south swedish conventional crop rotation, organic crop rotation (stockless farm), agroforestry system and system with the perennial cereal Kernza® with and without intercropping with lucerne on SITES Lönnstorps field station. Photo: Ryan Davidson.

Focus areas:

Legumes for sustainable food systems

Within this theme we investigate benefits and challenges of grain legume cultivation, in terms of productivity, weed abundance and nitrogen dynamics at the crop and cropping system levels. The overall aim is to produce knowledge for the development of cropping systems where grain legumes provide stable and profitable yields, and where ecosystem services from diversified cropping systems including grain legumes replace external inputs and stimulate the transition towards climate smart food production.

Grain legumes such as beans, lentils and peas are resource-efficient and climate smart protein sources, and provide positive health effects when included in human diets. In the theme legumes for sustainable food systems, we perform research, teaching and communication with the surrounding society about yield and yield stability, weed abundance and N acquisition (including N2 fixation) in faba beans, lentils, lupins and peas grown as sole crops and intercrops with cereals, with and without undersown cover crops and with different weed management strategies. The research, performed in the Swedish context as well as in international collaborations, is based on studies of competitive, complementary and facilitative plant-plant interactions related to resource use efficiency and resilience in diversified cropping systems. Following principles and practices of agroecology, we strive towards active participation of farmers and other stakeholders for the co-creation of knowledge about challenges and possibilities for grain legume cultivation and use in a food system perspective. The theme  is coordinated by senior lecturer Georg Carlsson.

Soil communities and processes

Within this theme we study the influence of cropping systems on microbial communities and microbially mediated processes in the soil, and the effects of these processes on ecosystem services. Carbon and nitrogen cycling, including greenhouse gas emissions, is in focus.

The aim of the theme is to develop cropping system designs that deliver improved ecosystem services, such as increased nutrient supply through plant-microbial symbioses, decreased losses of reactive nitrogen (N), enhanced climate change mitigation, increased resilience to climate change and improved yields in relation to inputs. The research is conducted at the cropping systems scale, in arable and open-field horticultural systems. Examples of design and management factors studied are crop diversification, tillage, integration of perennial crops, fertilization and recycling of harvest residues and waste products. We determine effects of cropping systems design and management on functional microbial diversity, N use efficiency, N leaching, symbiotic N2 fixation, greenhouse gas emissions, C sequestration, C distribution in the soil and interactions between C and N cycling.  The theme is coordinated by resercher Maria Ernfors.

Ongoing projects about soil communities and processes

Weed ecology and management

The overall aim of this theme is to increase knowledge about the integration of preventive, cultural and direct weed control into integrated weed management strategies for different cropping systems to achieve a sustainable weed management in agricultural and open-field horticultural systems.

Integrated weed management is the combined application of several long-term strategies and cultivation methods. Research and development within integrated weed management are based on a holistic and knowledge-based concept, which considers the whole cropping system and its development. The overall aim of the research is to strengthen preventive cultivation methods to regulate the population size of problematic weeds, while simultaneously optimizing the crop competitive ability against weeds. In this way, the need for direct control methods is minimized. Where the preventive measures are not sufficient, direct methods may be necessary. The theme includes the knowledge of the weed ecology and biology in an agroecological perspective and the system-level development of integrated weed management in agricultural and open-field horticultural crops. An agroecological perspective includes the use of knowledge about cultivation systems and ecological principles such as functional diversity, diversification of crops in space (e.g. intercropping) and in time (e.g. crop rotation). The themeis coordinated by researcher David Hansson.

Ongoing projects about weed ecology and management

Research Projects:


Cropping Systems Ecology