Posted: July 21, 2017

This is the 12th of thirteen short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Friends with Benefits: The Relationship Between Biodiversity and Sustainability
By Tristan M. Cofer

Picture a corn field, and what you'll probably see is row after row of emerald green corn stalks extending outward in every direction to cover the rural landscape. What you'll not see however, are the many hidden costs associated with maintaining this picturesque view.

"Growing the same crop in the same place year after year can be expensive and isn't sustainable," says entomologist Julie Baniszewski.

According to Baniszewski, a first year Ph.D. student at the Pennsylvania State University, the lack of biodiversity in a monoculture makes it more vulnerable to destructive pests, leading to the need for more pesticides and other chemicals, which can be both costly to the farmer and harmful to the environment.

As an alternative, Baniszewski will be investigating the potential benefits of a technique known as "intercropping", where several crops are grown together. Baniszewski expects that the increased biodiversity in intercropped fields will help to suppress outbreaks from both weeds and insect pests, while also providing an added degree of protection against potentially harmful invasive pest species. In addition, because different crops use different resources, intercropped fields may require less fertilizer than traditional monocultures.

"Intercropping has the potential to provide more stable yields with less input year-to-year, but we still need to overcome logistical challenges associated with planting and harvesting multiple crops," says Baniszewski, "Our goal is to apply what we have learned from ecological systems to create more environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural ones."