Source: UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Jan 15, 2022
Project End Date
Jan 14, 2024
Grant Year
Project Director
crookston, B.
Recipient Organization
LOGAN,UT 84322
Performing Department
Plants Soils & Climate
Non Technical Summary
Ecology and agricultural researchers have recently published that the future of achieving sustainable food systems requires innovating the ways agricultural ecosystems are studied and understood. In the context of agroecology and systems agricultural research, the science of a complex system in agriculture is characterized by specific concepts and organizing principles. However, many authors who research topics in agriculture sciences use the word complex to merely describe something with many intricate parts that are difficult to understand rather than employing the concepts and principles of complexity as a science in agriculture. This research project is intended to support greater understanding of the science of complexity in the context of sustainable agricultural ecosystem intensification, and will contribute to the methods of study and analysis of farms as complex agriculture ecosystems. This project will first investigate how concepts and principles of complexity are studied in university agroecology classes and programs. Second, the project will research methods of analysis of complexity in agriculture systems. Third, the project will uncover patterns in the agroecological research literature that indicate the history of scientific knowledge as it relates to the concepts of complex systems. Fourth, the project will investigate how soil security can be built by agroecology research principles.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
This project will investigate how fundamental concepts of systems complexity are studied in agroecology. The project has four objectives: 1) identify how the concepts of systems complexity are studied in university agroecology education programs in the US, 2) identify agroecological literature related to the five dimensions of soil security, and investigate how their findings may lead to greater soil security, 3) identify analytical and experimental design methods within agroecological literature used to study agroecological systems complexity, and 4) identify bibliometric patterns within agroecological literature that demonstrate unified and also distinct knowledge domains and histories that study agroecological complexity.
Project Methods
Objective 1) Identify how concepts of complexity are studied in university agroecology education programs in the US. An initial internet search will seek agriculture science-related undergraduate and graduate degree programs databases to identify universities in the US that offer agroecology courses and or degree programs. An additional internet search will generally search for institutions if databases are not readily available. It is anticipated that these searches will be used to collect course syllabi that might identify topics and texts studied in the programs or courses. This review will support the writing and designing of an online questionnaire sent to agroecology (or related subject matter) faculty in the US. Support from a USU faculty member specializing in agriculture-related surveys will be sought when writing the survey. The survey will identify how the concepts of systems complexity are being taught to graduate and undergraduate students in agroecology programs and courses across the US. The survey will consist of several open-ended and Likert-style questions to gather opinions and information from respondents. The survey will be evaluated on a few possible respondents and then revised before a broader release. The survey will be distributed with a series of subsequent reminder emails to encourage survey completion. Responses will be summarized graphically, and a manuscript will be produced that presents the findings from the initial review and the entire survey. The survey will be submitted for IRB approval before general release to potential respondents. Given the time needed to survey design and for revision, testing, IRB approval, implementation and analysis, and writing, the complete timeline for the expected completion of this objective is approximately 12 months.Objectives 2, 3, and 4 will utilize a corpus of agroecological systems complexity literature derived from a preliminary search of the Scopus literature database performed in April 2021. The search retrieved approximately 6,500 primary research articles, reviews, conference papers, editorials, letters, and book chapters published in English. Following bibliometric analysis method recommendations by Lade and Peterson (2019), the search query used various forms of the target concepts to ensure that many papers are included that may be studying topics related to the target concept. The "*" sign was used in the search field to indicate inflected forms of the keywords. For example, "agroecolog*" represented "agroecological", "agroecologically", "agroecology" or "agroecologist." Furthermore, the Scopus search tool "W/2" requests results where keywords are within two words of each other. The search term "complex*" W/2 "system*" indicates a request that may return results for the phrase "complex adaptive systems" or simply "complex system." The full search term intends to capture concepts related to complexity science, ecological systems, sustainability, and food systems through agroecology. The search term used was as follows: ("complex" W/2 "system*") AND ("soci*" W/2 ("ecolog* system*" OR "ecosystem*" OR "ecolog*")) AND ("agri*" OR "agro-ecolog*" OR "agroecolog*" OR "agri* ecosystem*" OR "agroecosystem*" OR ("food" W/2 "system*") OR ("farm" W/2 "system*")) AND "sustain*." Document title, author names, keywords, abstracts, and full reference lists were downloaded and archived to be used in the following objectives.Objective 2) Identify agroecological literature that investigates concepts related to the five dimensions of soil security and interpret how their findings may lead to greater soil security. Efforts in this objective include a text analysis will be conducted to investigate how soil security may be strengthened through agroecological complexity-related research. Specifically, the literature corpus will be narrowed to documents that directly study soils. Further, papers will be selected that discuss concepts represented by keywords related to the description of each of the five dimensions of soil security. A sample of full-text documents will be studied to identify how key concepts of agroecological complexity build soil security. Results of these efforts will be written into a manuscript contextualizing keyword frequencies in the dimensions of soil security. It is anticipated that these efforts will take five to seven months before submitting the manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal.Objective 3) Identify analytical and experimental design methods within agroecological literature used to study and account for agroecological complexity. The literature corpus will be constrained to primary research articles to focus on methods and experimental designs in agronomic and ecological disciplines. Full-text articles will be obtained and studied where available. The collection of documents will first be searched to identify papers that use keywords related to concepts from the seven themes of agroecological complexity proposed by Vandermeer and Perfecto (2017) and the concepts in agroecology proposed Brym and Reeve (2016). The final collection of articles will be studied for methods of experimental design and or statistical analysis that specifically account for and study complexity in agroecosystems. Additionally, the documents will be analyzed for their use of complex systems concepts discussed by Preiser et al. (2018) and Drinkwater (2016). Efforts will culminate in a manuscript to be submitted to an open-access peer-reviewed journal. It is anticipated that this project objective will last seven to nine months.Objective 4) Identify bibliometric patterns in keywords and citations within agroecological literature that demonstrate unified and distinct knowledge domains and histories that study agroecological complexity. The full literature corpus will be analyzed using co-words analysis, titles, keywords, and abstracts. Co-word analysis is the mapping of frequently co-occurring words and phrases and can illustrate relationships among ideas within and among subject areas (Qin, 1999). The co-word analysis also indicates the conceptual framework of a research field (Aria and Cuccurullo, 2017). It is hypothesized that distinct co-word clusters will be formed that will be indicative of disciplinary subfields in the research. Secondly, a bibliometric method of investigating the historical roots of a research field (Ballandonne and Cersosimo, 2021) will be employed to identify overlapping and isolated uses of references among research subfields. This method will analyze the references cited within the corpus to identify how frequently a reference is used over time (Marx et al., 2014). Overall, these efforts will describe the theoretical and knowledge base of the systems complexity research subfields within the agroecological literature. The efforts in this objective will be written into a manuscript and submitted to an open-access peer-reviewed journal following seven to nine months of work.