Diversity in biological resources (biodiversity) evolved to fill the innumerable environmental niches of the Earth. It is manifest in all except the most extreme global environments. Humans have exploited this diversity and shaped it over millennia to meet basic needs for survival. Thus, biodiversity has been an integral and essential feature in the evolution of agriculture. Agrobiodiversity, that part of the full spectrum of diversity on which humans directly depend for food and fiber, represents plants, animals, and microbes that are greatly modified by the domestication process to the extent that many of them cannot survive in the environments of their progenitors.
Ancient farmers knew well the necessity of having different crops or animal breeds and different varieties of each crop or breed in case of failure of one or the other for various reasons. They also explored and utilized the rich diversity of flavors, textures, and aromas available in their plant and animal species.
The management of agrobiodiversity is temporally and spatially integrated into agroecosystems. How agroecosystem management affects ecosystems in general is a subject of intensive research, debate, and controversy. Both intensive and extensive agricultural systems are essential to the sustainability of the global human population. In turn, these systems are dependent upon the existence of a rich reservoir of agrobiodiversity and its use in ways that complement and enhance biodiversity in its natural state. As is evident throughout this book, there are examples of severe negative impacts of agricultural activities on biodiversity, mainly through degradation of natural habitats. Biodiversity losses are becoming recognized and, through research and practice, are slowly being mitigated. At the same time, there are examples of agriculture practices that enhance biodiversity and one of the great challenges for the next century will be to discover additional ways for achieving complementarity of food, fiber, and energy production and biodiversity conservation.
Today's farmers, using both traditional and high-technology methods, also understand that the continued success of their agriculture depends upon conserving, maintaining, and using the diversity that is so under threat now. It is also important that conservationists and policy makers have a thorough understanding of agricultural processes so they can discover practical ways to facilitate both agricultural production and natural resource conservation.
This book is designed to emphasize just how important biodiversity is to agriculture. The various chapters point out the positive effects of agriculture on helping to conserve and protect the diversity on which it depends. The effects of agricultural growth, genetic uniformity, and dependence on high levels of external inputs are also highlighted. The book is intended to present the reader with a broad view of the interplay of biodiversity and agriculture with chapters addressing soil microbes, insects, plants, animals, rangelands, and agro-forestry. Other chapters discuss the efforts to conserve, maintain, and effectively use plant and animal diversity most important to agriculture. Still other chapters delve into the value of genetic diversity to agriculture and the interaction with surrounding habitats and species. Finally, the integration of new biotechnologies into traditional and industrial agricultural systems can have great impact on the quality of biodiversity and help shape strategies for its conservation.
We believe that sharing this knowledge and these experiences by some of the world's most knowledgeable experts will provide readers with a broad appreciation and heightened awareness of the stakes involved in the future preservation of these natural resources.
Wanda W. Collins Calvin O. Qualset
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