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Stacking of ecosystem services: mechanisms and interactions for optimal crop protection, pollination enhancement, and productivity

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EcoStack (Stacking of ecosystem services: mechanisms and interactions for optimal crop protection, pollination enhancement, and productivity)

Reporting period: 2020-03-10 to 2021-09-09

Intensification of agriculture to meet food demands of a growing global population is difficult to reconcile with protection of the environment and of non-renewable resources. The resulting loss of natural habitats through conversion into farmland with intensive farming has major negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity; a serious concern addressed by a number of EU agri-environment policies. Moreover, the use of synthetic agrochemicals is often associated with undesirable negative impacts (EEA, 2013, 11: 240-261), which are addressed by the EU Directive on Sustainable Use of Pesticides (Directive 2009/128/EC).

It is an ethical imperative to develop forms of agricultural production that address the crucial societal challenge of balancing the demand for food and high productivity, imposed by the predicted global population increase, with reduced environmental impact and social acceptability of new production strategies. It is also imperative that responsible approaches are developed that align with the goals to reduce Society’s impact on climate change.

Agroecosystems are ecologically simplified and artificially managed, but they still rely on multiple ecosystem services provided by a wealth of beneficial organisms and microorganisms, which are essential for biocontrol of pests, pollination of crops, recycling of nutrients and organic matter for maintenance of soil fertility, and conservation of farmland biodiversity. EcoStack is a multi-actor endeavor, aiming to develop ecologically, economically and socially sustainable crop production strategies via stacking of ecosystem service provision from optimized biodiversity management and bio-inspired tools for crop protection, in order to enhance the sustainability of food production systems across Europe.
EcoStack is a science driven project, but largely relies on a multi-actor approach with continuous stakeholder and multi-actor engagement, both to define needs and promote uptake of promising results and use of the produced innovations, using a variety of tools as described on the project web site (

THE ROLE OF LANDSCAPE – EcoStack has developed a protocol to enable collation and processing of yield monitor data from GPS, and has started to link these data to the elements of the surrounding landscape, and the ecosystem service providers (ESP) they support. The diversity and abundance of ESP in these semi-natural habitats has been sampled with contrasting landscape complexity and the interactions of on-and off crop plants and associated invertebrates are being studied using state-of-the-art molecular approaches and novel visual technologies.

IN-CROP INTERVENTIONS - Field studies in different pedoclimatic regions across Europe, complemented by laboratory work and new approaches, have been designed to show if and how agronomic practices within the crop, e.g. variety mixtures, companion cropping, the use of organic mulching materials, soil cover management, and beneficial microbes can enhance in-crop delivery of ecosystem services. Results of cultivation trials show that these measures successfully reduce pest infestations in various crops.

BIO-INSPIRED PLANT PROTECTION – Novel biopesticides from natural antagonists of pests and pathogens have been isolated and their efficacy against target pests demonstrated as ‘proof of concept’. We have scaled up production of one candidate molecule using large-scale fermentation for further efficacy trials and biosafety testing. We have identified and demonstrated that plant signaling molecules enhance both direct and indirect defence barriers against insect pests and pathogens at femtomole levels.

ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENT – Data has been collected on the biology and ecology of ESP key-species for modeling studies; the sensitivity to major pesticides and their combinations of major biological control agents and pollinators in different European countries has been assessed. Data collected to date indicates a high probability of unacceptable effects of most tested insecticides on ESP communities. However, no major synergistic interactions were found between the tested plant protection products.

MODELLING AND UPSCALING – To predict impacts of EcoStack a modeling approach is being performed using ALMaSS. This has been pursued by developing landscape models to support simulation of ESP in 11 European countries and in collaboration with other H2020 projects. Development of ALMaSS models of ESP are underway, with a new sub-population approach added to ALMaSS to model numerous species (e.g. aphids), and development of northern-European species of beetle.

SOCIOECONOMIC IMPACT – To evaluate socioeconomic impacts of implementing EcoStack strategies, economic, environmental and social effects of EcoStack strategies and measures were identified and systematically compiled in an “Effect Matrix” with accompanying datasheets on the measures. First calculations of costs and benefits showed that in some cases benefits clearly outweighed additional costs. The cost-benefit-analysis is ongoing and upscaling will be based on ALMaSS modeling results.
Progress, expected results and impacts can be summarized as follows :

THE ROLE OF LANDSCAPE – The analysis of ESP impact on yield and its link to the surrounding landscape allows an accurate estimate of the ecological and economic impact of the off-crop components of food production systems. This approach will help to manage agricultural landscapes to maximize crop yields while minimizing inputs.

IN-CROP INTERVENTIONS – The core innovation of EcoStack is the “ecostacking” of the “best bets” in approaches to be tailored and implemented at farm level in later years of the project, using the modeling tools developed by EcoStack and through local field trials.

BIO-INSPIRED PLANT PROTECTION – This EcoStack experimental approach is highly innovative as it uses natural antagonists beyond the organism level, as a source of natural biopesticides and plant biostimulants, for the control of pests and diseases. This enables a step-change in terms of how biologically-based approaches can be deployed as part of sustainable and integrated pest management.

ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENT – There is no single data source that enables assessment of actual risks to non-target organisms across different crops, pedo-climatic zones of the EU and for a range of pesticides. EcoStack is filling this gap by developing more realistic Ecological Risk Assessment for pesticides and contributing to models that allows prediction of long-term effects of combined pesticide use and other agricultural practices in a complex landscape.

MODELLING AND UPSCALING – The use of cutting-edge ALMaSS modelling facilitates extrapolation of knowledge from one context to another, so that a sparse matrix of laboratory and field data can be exploited to develop the best solutions for different eco-climatic and pedo-climatic zones in Europe, overcoming the limit of an unmanageable number of empirical field trials.

SOCIOECONOMIC IMPACT – A combination of region specific cost-benefit analysis of the process and product innovations generated by EcoStack, along with the innovative use of ALMaSS to define suitable “realistic uptake scenarios” are the most innovative aspects of an in-depth and unique evaluation and effective enhancement of the socio economic impact of EcoStack.
22 partners from 13 countries involved
Structure of the project