As human populations grow and resources are depleted, agriculture will need to use land, water, and other resources more efficiently and without sacrificing long-term sustainability. Darwinian Agriculture presents an entirely new approach to these challenges, one that draws on the principles of evolution and natural selection.
R. Ford Denison shows how both biotechnology and traditional plant breeding can use Darwinian insights to identify promising routes for crop genetic improvement and avoid costly dead ends. Denison explains why plant traits that have been genetically optimized by individual selection--such as photosynthesis and drought tolerance--are bad candidates for genetic improvement. Traits like plant height and leaf angle, which determine the collective performance of plant communities, offer more room for improvement. Agriculturalists can also benefit from more sophisticated comparisons among natural communities and from the study of wild species in the landscapes where they evolved.
Darwinian Agriculture reveals why it is sometimes better to slow or even reverse evolutionary trends when they are inconsistent with our present goals, and how we can glean new ideas from natural selection's marvelous innovations in wild species.
R. Ford Denison is adjunct professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota and taught crop ecology at the University of California, Davis.
"Darwinian Agriculture offers an engaging and bold explanation of why agricultural research must take better advantage of insights from evolutionary biology."--Allison A. Snow, Science
"Darwinian Agriculture shows just how much plant breeding and biotechnology can learn from evolutionary biology, and takes an honest look at agricultural techniques from genetic engineering to organic farming."--Biologist
"Denison's book begins with a broadly accessible introduction to key concepts of evolution and sustainable agriculture, drawing the reader in with a blend of good storytelling, sound science, and fascinating examples of natural parallels to the agricultural system. . . . Even readers who begin the book with little understanding of evolution can finish it with an appreciation of how current research applies evolutionary theory to advance agriculture."--Choice
"This book is a rich source of information for evolutionary biologists, biotechnologists and agriculturalists. It illustrates important evolutionary principles in an accessible way, using the farm of brother Tom as a recurrent tangible example. Evolutionary concepts, such as kin selection and relatedness are explained clearly, and illustrated with many examples that can be used for teaching. I can recommend this book to all students of evolutionary biology and ecology who are not afraid of applications. In fact, I may want to recommend it even more strongly to all those researchers, institutes and companies whose research aim it is to face the challenge of a growing world population that needs to be fed on a planet on which the climate is rapidly changing. Denison's arguments are convincing and we as humans may be missing out on a bright future if we ignore this book."--Duur K. Aanen, Evolution
Table of Contents:
List of Illustrations vii
Chapter 1 Repaying Darwin’s Debt to Agriculture 1
Chapter 2 What Do We Need from Agriculture? 9
Chapter 3 Evolution 101 28
The Power of Natural Selection
Chapter 4 Darwinian Agriculture’s Three Core Principles 43
Chapter 5 What Won’t Work 54
Chapter 6 Selfish Genes, Sophisticated Plants, and Haphazard
Chapter 7 What Won’t Work 95
Misguided Mimicry of Natural Ecosystems
Chapter 8 What Has Worked 120
Improving Cooperation within Species
Chapter 9 What Could Work Better 145
Cooperation between Two Species
Chapter 10 Stop Evolution Now! 164
Chapter 11 Learning from Plants, Ants, and Ecosystems 177
Chapter 12 Diversity, Bet-hedging,
and Selection among Ideas 190