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Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology by Stephen R Gliessman  RSS feed

 
Neil Layton
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Features
Encompasses an extensive range of topics including soil temperature and soil moisture, Rhizobium nodulation in legumes, and agroecosystem biodiversity
Includes well-structured investigations to eliminate errors
Encourages record-keeping, data sheets, statistical analyses, and report writing
Examines whole farms or systems within farm boundaries, so that some investigations touch on the complexity with which farmers manage agroecosystems
Features new investigations that represent a broader geographical area

Summary
Agroecology is defined as the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems. Hence, learning can best be achieved through an experiential approach to the topic. Designed to accompany Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems, Third Edition, Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology, Third Edition features 24 investigations divided into five sections that parallel the main text:

Studies of Environmental Factors: These investigations deal with how an individual plant responds to the environment, how environmental factors in specific agroecosystems are measured and characterized, and how particular environmental factors affect individual plants.
Studies of Population Dynamics in Crop Systems: This section studies how populations of organisms act in agroecosystems. It focuses on what populations are present, how they change over time and respond to the environment, and how individuals within a population may interact.
Studies of Interspecific Interactions in Cropping Communities: This section emphasizes the between-species interactions of the organisms that make up crop communities. These interactions include herbivory, allelopathy, and mutualisms.
Studies of Farm and Field Systems: These investigations cover system-level agroecology and whole farms or systems within farm boundaries. They touch on the complexity with which the farmer deals in managing agroecosystems.
Food System Studies: These investigations reach out beyond the individual farm to examine components of the food system at a local level, which impact all of the levels of analysis in the first four parts.

This manual facilitates hands-on learning that involves close observation, creative interpretation, and constant questioning of findings. The investigations emphasize the importance of careful data interpretation and presentation and the value of a clear, concise, and well-written research report. The book uses simple statistical analysis for data management and interpretation and students are guided through the steps of data analysis in the context of the particular investigations in which it is employed.

Where to get it:
Direct from the publisher
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk
 
Neil Layton
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I give this book 8 out of 10 acorns.

NOTE: I read the first edition of this book. It is now in its third edition, and there may have been important updates.

I'm increasingly coming to realise that one of permaculture's great weaknesses is that it lacks solid foundations in good research. To a point there are historical reasons for this. Bill Mollison's attitude to research was often slipshod, meaning that he missed a great many valuable techniques, and it sometimes feels like he crammed ideas down on paper: many of these were good ideas, but his work often reads like he added materials without particular regard to relevance, consistency or, in extreme cases, coherence. This has attracted a tendency open to what has been politely described as pseudoscience (see, for example, http://permaculture.cultivate.ie/05/03/2014/the-hippy-fication-of-permaculture/) or, in the case of one acquaintance, “****ing woo” (except she didn't say “****”). Another left it at “woo”.

While many of us have successfully found methods that work well for us, a lack of intellectual rigour and often a reluctance to share results have left us in a much weaker position than we otherwise could have been. A general, if sometimes understandable, suspicion of science means that many people on this site react as badly to the word as I do to dishonesty. This has led to overblown claims (see, for example: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13593-013-0181-6) and, in the case of the potential for addressing climate change (http://www.permies.com/t/55829//Read-Carbon-Farming-Solution-Eric) in a much weaker position than we might otherwise have been in had we actually gone and tested what some of us believed. This goes way beyond the dynamic accumulators fiasco: http://www.permies.com/t/53073//truth-Dynamic-Accumulators-Science-needed

If we hadn't failed to distinguish simple things like net primary productivity and yield, or if we'd actually measured and compared yields and organic matter accumulation rates we might now be in a better position not only to help each other but also to contribute to the question of addressing the threats linked to climate change. It's allowed people following practices that are clearly not sustainable to hide behind the permaculture bandwagon. Regular readers of my posts know exactly who I mean.

I think it's set us, and possibly humanity's long-term chances for survival, back years. I understand it's a backlash against the misuse of science, but I think it's gone too far.

I want to demonstrate that science is not something to be scared of; nor is it something to beat someone over the head with. It's a useful tool that enables you to learn things that you can use to meet your aims and objectives in your habitat, not to mention understand it. It can also enable you distinguish when someone is trying to beat you over the head instead of persuade you on the basis of more or less objective evidence. Science can be misused, and has been misused, but the other side of the coin from learning how to misuse it is to understand how to use it.

I picked up a copy of this book secondhand as a companion to another volume (Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems: review to follow). My copy is of the first edition, but it's now in its third. The author has several graduate degrees (in Biology, Botany and Plant Ecology) and has decades of experience in both agroecological management and teaching. It might reasonably be argued that Gliessman invented the field as a scientific discipline. The book is intended to parallel another textbook, Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture, which I don't have, but much of it seems to be very similar to the one I do have: one seems to be a later edition of the other.

The other book is theoretical. This one is practical. Both could be used by anyone with a scientific background no higher than you'd expect having left school at 18: it's aimed at first-year university students, who have no higher a level of education. It's science, not rocketry. Agroecology is a hybrid science, with agronomy and ecology dominating its ancestry, but there has been some backcrossing into some of the social sciences and socio-economic justice issues: at a practical level this book emphasises the first two. In many ways it's what permaculture could have been with a more rigorous approach, but lacks some of permaculture's methodological tools. My own thought is increasingly a hybrid between the two.

This book skips over the details of statistical analysis, experimental design and ecological field study methods (I'll try to cover those at a later date as well: I have a suitable volume, but it's a big volume in a big pile). It does teach the value and need for rigour, consistency and detail, as well as how to see fields and gardens not just as production systems, but as dynamic, evolving ecosystems, and thus could be used to complement Mollison, Holmgren and, in particular, Jacke and Toensmeier. An introduction to the writing of lab reports should stand you in good stead when you wish to publish results of your own studies at a later date (and don't think I don't realise how much that scares the crap out of most of you!). While the investigations are designed to be conducted by teams, most of them could be conducted alone, and modified according to your own needs in your own habitat. Each investigation comes with datasheets, which are intended to be photocopied (the pages of this edition are actually perforated in order to facilitate this).

Permaculture design has always emphasised the creation of microclimates: indeed this is part of the point of hugelkultur. The very first investigation is a study of the effects of microclimate on seed germination. This is useful for a practical understanding of how, for example a new cultivar might fare under different conditions. It's designed as a lab-based experiment under controlled conditions but could, with some thought, be modified for field or garden use. With a larger range of species, or even varieties, you could investigate safe-site requirements.

I hope you are beginning to see how this might have value over just bunging seeds in the ground.

An investigation on light transmission in the vegetative canopy has obvious value in monitoring in a forest garden (which is the point!). You learn how to monitor soil temperature and moisture content under a range of conditions (enabling you to understand how different mulches work, for example), canopy litterfall analysis, comparisons of mulching systems and the responses of roots to soil types.

That's just part I.

Part II covers studies of population dynamics in crop systems, including arthropod monitoring, which helps you understand pest/prey-predator relationships. Part III covers studies of interactions between species in cropping communities, mainly between plants and animals. Part IV, on farm and field systems, should enable us to avoid overblown claims – and make substantiated ones – on matters as various as the effects of weedy borders on insect populations to mapping biodiversity in your ecosystem (both of which enable you to provide evidence that what you are doing does benefit wildlife) to the perennial question of overyielding.

I have two major criticisms of this book. One is that many of the investigations as they stand (most can be modified, and many have explicit suggestions for doing so) require access to a laboratory. Sometimes they don't need much or any in the way of expensive equipment (petri dishes are cheap), but others do. The second, then is that this includes many of the field investigations. Much of this equipment can be picked up secondhand. In some cases the more enterprising may be able to design inexpensive alternatives. Partnering with a local academic institution may reduce costs and help you avoid beginner's mistakes. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence and the ability to pay attention to detail can do science, but this book, in its efforts to simplify the life of the author in getting a class into the field, does not always do a great job of demonstrating that. Most of these investigations could be modified for the field, but that may not be immediately obvious.

Permaculture has a great deal to offer the broader field of agroecology, and potentially not just humanity but life on this planet. It's weakened by a tendency towards woolly thinking and overblown assertions, even a tendency towards pseudoscience. The rigorous study of agroecological thought and methods can rectify that. It will also help the practitioner to meet their own aims and objectives, understand what he might be doing wrong and how the situation might be improved. It's not even that hard.

It's science. It's not rocket science.

I like this book. It's given me ideas, and may have helped me avoid potential mistakes in my own studies. I recommend making use of it.
 
David Livingston
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So is this a how to book or a book detailing the results of investigations?
Either way I like the sound of it

David
 
Neil Layton
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David Livingston wrote:So is this a how to book or a book detailing the results of investigations?
Either way I like the sound of it

David


It's a how-to book.

A detailed how-to book.
 
David Livingston
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If they are lots of folks doing this science how do we tap into the results ?
Or is it like the folks doing the perennial sunflowers/wheat ? And it's always ten years away

David
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think Neil is encouraging us to generate our own results and share them!
 
Neil Layton
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The investigations in this book are designed to help students practice. This is how you learn.

There are whole books on agroecology, and about half a dozen journals in which relevant research is published, of varying levels of transparency. Then there are supporting organisations. I'll try to assemble a list. There are some online, but I want to check impact factors and so on first. I don't want to point anyone to crap research. Even I accept that just because it's science it's not necessarily good science. I want people to be doing good science and be able to tell the difference between good science and crap science.

Some authors consider permaculture to be part of the broader agroecology movement, but it's very much the black sheep of the family.
 
Neil Layton
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think Neil is encouraging us to generate our own results and share them!


Pretty much. I'd also recommend plugging in to existing research.
 
David Livingston
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Tyler - I know that's why I am asking these questions
Neil -the point is I agree with you although I might not state things the way you do but if we are to encourage others to take a more scientific approach and become part of a movement or to see them selves as part of such a movement then it would help if they could see to tangible benifits up front .
 
David Livingston
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In other words results need to be easy to accses and applicable . More like citizen science than fusion research
 
David Livingston
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Neil
I have been thinking about these two books you have reviewed in the last couple of days .
I have come to the conclusion that you are right and yet
Yes permaculture is unscientific at times yes it's riddled with psudoscience , hippy notions and philosophy and yet ......
It gives hope , it encourages and empowers people to change . For every person who makes forest garden zones 12345 etc thousands turn their gardens to a veg patch ,for every person who builds a wofati thousands think about insulating their home. For every person who starts a farm thousands get a couple of chickens .etc etc
I am sure for instance that there is at least a 70% chance that if I met Paul we would not get on , he is loud self opinionated and so American its like a disabilty but I admire him for what he has done and continues to do and thus I will support him and his efforts how ever I can .
One day someone will write Permaculture2 and include all the stuff that agroecology has found out will be given to the masses in a form they can understand and use. Maybe it will be a DVD
But until then .......

David
 
Burra Maluca
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David Livingston wrote:
One day someone will write Permaculture2 and include all the stuff that agroecology has found out will be given to the masses in a form they can understand and use. Maybe it will be a DVD
But until then .......


I think that there will be people reading these forums who are quite happy with the way scientific literature and research is written, and for them this book is probably a great find. There will also be a few, maybe including Neil, who will run with the ideas in such books, test them out, and, if we're lucky enough, write them up in a way that the rest of us can understand. I want to heartily encourage such things!
 
David Livingston
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So do I Burra
 
Mike Haych
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Neil Layton wrote:

SNIP

Where to get it:
Direct from the publisher
Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk



Excellent book. And there are lots more books and articles like it but the prices are prohibitive. See Urban Agriculture. Unless your have online access to a university library or a very deep pocket, this information is beyond reach. But Sciencemag.org, the online presence of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) details a solution: The frustrated science student behind Sci-Hub.

Over 16,000 researchers have objected to the paywall - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/science/researchers-boycott-elsevier-journal-publisher.html?_r=4. Many have given reasons.
 
Neil Layton
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Mike Haych wrote:


Excellent book. And there are lots more books and articles like it but the prices are prohibitive. See Urban Agriculture. Unless your have online access to a university library or a very deep pocket, this information is beyond reach. But Sciencemag.org, the online presence of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) details a solution: The frustrated science student behind Sci-Hub.


Yes, I was lucky enough to find one secondhand, which is always possible (I paid £2:50, which is about CAN$4:65, Euro3:20 or US$3:60, or about the price of a cup of coffee around here, but I was very, very lucky to do so). I'm a big fan of the use of libraries, including the InterLibrary Loan service (I imagine Canada has some sort of equivalent) or using other means of borrowing or obtaining books for less cost, especially when the prices are so prohibitive as to lock people out of the process of learning.

I'm firmly of the belief that information should be free.

There is a serious problem with the cost of books and other materials being prohibitive, and this applies as much to permaculture as it does to science.

RIP Aaron Swartz: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/07/aaron-swartz-suicide-internets-own-boy
 
r ranson
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This looks like a really good book. I'll be getting via interlibrary loan. Most libraries can get almost any book, and since our taxes usually pay for them anyway, it's well worth taking advantage of it. Then again, if it's a really good book, I like to support the author by buying it.

I keep seeing this word "agroecology", I'm becoming very interested in it. Thank you Neil for writing a review. I'm learning a lot. It looks like this is the kind of book that will help with my observation skills on the farm, as well as understanding the whys and wherefores of how everything is interconnected.
 
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