Ecological theory uniting agro-ecology and forestry research

Last changed: 01 June 2017

At the Ecology Department we have researchers that mainly studies the forest ecosystem and others that focus on agriculture. Now it is time to Unify Ecology!

The strength of the department lays in the vast amounts of ecological knowledge on different man-made ecosystems and how land use and climate change affects ecosystem processes/services in these systems. Underlying the research are ecological theories that are shared between forest and agricultural systems. Yet, the different  disciplines of ecology in our department tend to act as separate fields.

Forest and Agriculture. Picture from Västerbotten. Foto: Wikimedia Commons, donated by Riksantikvarieämbetet

In four projects we will use the combined expertise at our department we have the possibility to actively unite different fields within ecology and address common hypotheses using results from the different systems.


Currently the department is divided over two faculties, the Faculty of Natural resources and agricultural sciences and the Faculty of Forest Sciences. To facilitate the new organisation structure the vice-chancellor has decided to provide funds to increase the collaboration between the faculties in our department.


Predators, herbivores, seed dispersers, pollinators, decomposers

Cross-boundary dynamics of predators, herbivores, seed dispersers, pollinators, and decomposers between forest and agricultural systems

Within-habitat dynamics and ecosystem functioning can only be fully understood when placed in a spatial context where cross-boundary effects due to the movement of organisms between habitat (types) are considered. Theoretical ecology acknowledges this phenomenon in the concept of cross-boundary subsidies which - integrating landscape- and food-web ecology - argues that organism or material transfer across habitats has considerable implications for community and food web structure and the delivery of ecosystem services within each habitat type.

 ‘Cross-boundary movements’ or ‘cross-habitat spillover’ (i.e. species mainly associated with some habitat types having an effect on species living in other habitat types) will form the basis of the present project that - in the form of a literature review - will seek to identify which organisms are important in their cross boundary movements between forest and adjacent agricultural land. At present research on ‘forest stand - crop field’ spillover covers only a limited number of organisms, typically pollinators, pest insects or larger herbivores living above ground. In addition, there is a strong focus on spillover originating from forests while movement in the opposite direction is underemphasized. The project will address these knowledge gaps, searching the peer-reviewed literature for spillover studies in both directions for the main organism groups studied by the project members - spanning over different functional groups (predators, herbivores, seed dispersers, pollinators, decomposers, pest organisms) and living both above- and below-ground. The long term goal of the project is to provide a framework for future cross-boundary collaboration within the department, e.g. for developing cross-boundary food-web models and initiating empirical work to estimate the effect that cross-boundary spillover has for biodiversity, ecosystem services and disservices in different landscapes.

Contact: Geir Rune Rauset and Astrid Taylor

Pest control and conservation biology

Unifying research approaches in pest control and conservation biology

Conservation biology and pest management both deal with the management of populations, and both subfields are embedded within applied ecology. In that sense, they should be based on the same theoretical frameworks and use the same empirical approaches. Even so, there are currently large differences in practice, and there is often relatively little communication between the two fields. Differences could be due to practical concerns specific to the respective fields or historical contingencies. However, either case, an increased cooperation between the fields could be fruitful, and a comparison could identify common ground, gaps and areas where useful new perspectives could be introduced.

In this project, we will perform a quantitative literature review to evaluate differences in research approaches between conservation biology and pest management, with a special focus on empirical methods, ecological theory and the driving factors used to explain population dynamics. The review will be done by sampling the literature in the two subfields, from both general ecological journals and field-specific journals. Hopefully, we will be able to establish whether differences between fields can be explained rationally, by the field-specific problems they are trying to solve, or if they might be historical artifacts. At the end of the project we aim to organize a workshop within the department, to relate the result to research that is conducted here.

Contact: Tobias Jeppsson

Functional diversity and species conservation

Functional diversity and species conservation in forest and agricultural landscapes: win-win or trade off?

Management of ecosystem services is increasingly heralded as a solution for enhancing biodiversity. At least for some ecosystem services there is evidence that biodiversity directly influence these, or strongly correlates with them. However, there is a concern that ecosystem services are used as a conservation goal at the expense of conservation of rare species and other aspects of biodiversity. The aim of this project is to test if management strategies in forest and agricultural ecosystems aimed at promoting ecosystem functioning also benefit species of conservation concern. We will use existing data sets on species composition of different organisms (birds and insects) on multiple locations in both forest and agricultural landscapes. As a surrogate for ecosystem functioning we will calculate the functional diversity. This will allow us to: a) Investigate if there is a generally positive relationship between functional diversity and occurrence of rare species, b) Test if this relationship is consistent across taxonomic groups and ecosystems, and c) Test if this relationship is modified by land-use intensity.

Contact: Erik Öckinger

The interplay between stability and biodiversity in a disturbance-productivity regime

The interplay between stability and biodiversity in a disturbance-productivity regime: Agricultural and forest systems united

Major economic losses in food and wood production are caused by random or periodic disturbances by insect pests and pathogens. Inducing stability in the unpredictable populations has therefore been the aim of many ecologists.  The causal link between stability and biodiversity has gained support from both agricultural and forest ecosystems. However, the interaction between the two may be affected by both the frequency of disturbances and the productivity of the system, both of which also distinguish agro- and forest environments. The question thus arises: does biodiversity play a different role in the stability of argo- vs. forest-ecosystems?  Furthermore, is stability of an individual patch affected by the landscape matrix composed of several ecosystem types from disturbance and productivity regimes due to the movement of organisms?

Agro- and forest ecosystems have rarely been integrated to fully evaluate the similarity of the driving processes in these systems. The aim of this project uniting researchers from both NJ and S faculties is to approach the questions presented above by conducting a meta-analyses on published articles. The results potentially reveal differences and similarities in the underlying ecosystem processes.

Contact: Tea Ammunét


Maartje Klapwijk, researcher
Department of Ecology, SLU                        +46 (0)18-672402                       

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