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Unit information: The Ecology of Food Production and the Farmed Landscape in 2020/21

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Unit name The Ecology of Food Production and the Farmed Landscape
Unit code BIOL30009
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Wall
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Biological Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Life Sciences


By 2050, the global population is expected to exceed 10 billion. Increasing the productivity of plant and animal agricultural systems, and therefore food supply, will be critical to feeding this growing population. With 12.5 % of the world’s population undernourished, to meet the food demands of the global population food production will need to increase by 70%. Hence, there is an urgent need for food production, food resilience and food security to be increased in all countries, but particularly in developing nations where the effects of population growth are most acute. However, agricultural intensification is usually accompanied by environmental impacts, the acceptability of which must be balanced against the need to feed the human population. Views about where an appropriate or acceptable balance point in such a trade-off might be are highly context dependent and differing views can lead to social, economic and political conflict. This unit will examine a range of existing approaches to agricultural production in livestock and crop systems and consider their environmental impacts, it will evaluate differing interpretations of sustainability, and consider technological advances and novel approaches that might be used in the future to increase productivity while minimising impacts.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, students will:

1. Understand the ecological consequences of a range of human activities in agricultural environments.

2. Understand differing perspectives that apply to the trade-off between greater food production and environmental sustainability.

3. Understand how fundamental science can assist in the solution of practical environmental problems in managed agro-ecosystems

Teaching details

Lectures, directed reading, research and/or problem-solving activities; and independent study.

Assessment Details

Summative written assessment, with one essay question to be selected from a choice of two.

Reading and References

Essential reading

  • Broom, D. M. Galindo, F. A. Murgueitio E. (2013) Sustainable, efficient livestock production with high biodiversity and good welfare for animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.2025
  • Ray DK, Mueller ND, West PC &Foley JA (2013) Yield trends are insufficient to double global crop production by 2050. PLOS One, 8, 6, e66428.
  • Robertson & Swinton (2005) Reconciling agricultural productivity and environmental integrity: a grand challenge for agriculture. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 3, 38–46
  • Tilman D, Balzer C, Hill J &Befort B (2011) Global food demand and the sustainable intensification of agriculture. PNAS 108, 50, 20260-20264

Recommended reading

  • Bale, J. S., van Lenteren J. C., and Bigler, F. (2008) Biological control and sustainable food production. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 363, 761–776.
  • Bebber, D. P., Holmes, T. and Gurr, S. J. (2014), The global spread of crop pests and pathogens. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 23: 1398–1407.
  • Ellse, L. & Wall, R. The use of essential oils in veterinary ectoparasite control: a review. Medical & Veterinary Entomology, 28, 233-243.
  • Godber, O.F. &Wall, R. (2014) Livestock and food security: vulnerability to population growth and climate change. Global Change Biology , 20, 3092-102.
  • Sands, B.O. & Wall, R. (2016) Dung beetles reduce livestock gastrointestinal parasite availability on pasture. Journal of Applied Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12821
  • Wall, R. &Beynon, S. (2011) Area wide impacts of macrocyclic-lactone parasiticides in cattle dung. Medical &Veterinary Entomology, 26, 1-8.

Further reading

  • Anderson, N.E., Mubanga, J., Machila, N., Atkinson, P.M., Dzingrai, V. & Welburn, S.C. (2015) Sleeping sickness and its relationship with development and biodiversity conservation in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Parasites & Vectors , 8, 224.
  • Beynon, S.A., Wainwright, W.A. & Christie, M. (2015) The application of an ecosystem services framework to estimate the economic value of dung beetles to the UK cattle industry. Ecological Entomology, 40, 124-135.
  • Pywell, R. F., Heard, M. S., Woodcock,B. A., Hinsley, S., Ridding, L., Nowakowski, M., Bullock, J. M. (2015) Wildlife-friendly farming increases crop yield: evidence for ecological intensification. Proc. R. Soc. B, 282, 20151740.
  • Zeder, M.A. (2008) Domestication and early agriculture in the Mediterranean basin: origins, diffusion, and impact. PANS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0801317105.