Agriculture is being challenged to provide food, and increasingly fuel, for an expanding global population. Producing bioenergy crops on marginal lands--farmland suboptimal for food crops--could help meet energy goals while minimizing competition with food production. However, the ecological costs and benefits of growing bioenergy feedstocks--primarily annual grain crops--on marginal lands have been questioned. Here we show that perennial bioenergy crops provide an alternative to annual grains that increases biodiversity of multiple taxa and sustain a variety of ecosystem functions, promoting the creation of multifunctional agricultural landscapes. We found that switchgrass and prairie plantings harbored significantly greater plant, methanotrophic bacteria, arthropod, and bird diversity than maize. Although biomass production was greater in maize, all other ecosystem services, including methane consumption, pest suppression, pollination, and conservation of grassland birds, were higher in perennial grasslands. Moreover, we found that the linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem services is dependent not only on the choice of bioenergy crop but also on its location relative to other habitats, with local landscape context as important as crop choice in determining provision of some services. Our study suggests that bioenergy policy that supports coordinated land use can diversify agricultural landscapes and sustain multiple critical ecosystem services.
Plant viruses are widespread in nature, where they operate in intimate association with their hosts and often with vectors. Most research on plant viruses to the present has focused on agricultural systems (agronomic and horticultural) and viruses that are pathogenic. Consequently, there is a dearth of fundamental information about plant virus dynamics in natural ecosystems and how they might differ from or be influenced by virus interactions in managed systems. Key questions include under what conditions the influence of virus on host fitness is negative, neutral, or positive and the extent to which this relationship is influenced by ecosystem properties. To address these critical knowledge gaps, the expanding field of plant virus ecology seeks to examine (i) the ecological roles of plant-associated viruses and their vectors in managed and unmanaged ecosystems and (ii) the reciprocal influence of ecosystem properties on the distribution and evolution of plant viruses and their vectors. In this work, plant virus ecology draws on the achievements of epidemiology and extends the research focus to new ecological arenas. Here we provide an historical perspective and highlight key issues and emerging research directions. We suggest that there is broad need to (i) integrate consideration of plant viruses into ecological research and theory, in which viruses have generally been overlooked, and (ii) to expand ecological perspectives in virology to include new methods and disciplines in ecology, such as ecosystem ecology. Studies of plant-virus-vector interactions in nature offer both opportunities and challenges that will ultimately produce multi-faceted understanding of the role of viruses in shaping ecological and evolutionary dynamics.
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