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Current research on the ecosystem service potential of legume inclusive cropping systems in Europe

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A review paper published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development volume 41, Article number: 26 (2021) 

Authors :Lenora Ditzler, Dirk F. van Apeldoorn, Fernando Pellegrini, Daniele Antichi, Paolo Bàrberi & Walter A. H. Rossing Published: 25 March 2021


Legume crops hold promise to diversify the currently simplified rotations that dominate Europe and to increase the sustainability of European farming systems. Nevertheless, most legumes have been ignored by farmers, advisors, and value chain agents in the EU, where legumes are estimated to occupy only ~2% of arable land. Recent surveys find that farmers see a lack of knowledge on the agroecological impacts of (re)introducing legumes as a key barrier to legume adoption. A review of current research on the agroecological potential of legume-inclusive cropping systems would help in assessing whether research targeting sufficiently supports farmers in overcoming this barrier. We have systematically reviewed and synthesized published literature reporting on agricultural ecosystem service delivery in European cropping systems with legumes included compared to those without legumes. Our analysis of 163 published articles revealed: (1) the bulk of published research addresses production-related services delivered by few legume species (pea, clover, faba bean, and vetch, 70% of reviewed studies) comparatively assessed in cereal-based rotations; (2) substantial knowledge gaps also exist, encompassing ecosystem services with less direct relevance to economic outcomes (e.g., biodiversity) and with potential for high variability (e.g., pest and disease suppression); (3) studies at plot-level and within-season scales dominate (92% and 75% of reviewed studies, respectively). Assessed in the context of recent complementary studies, we find that a limited research focus is both counter to knowledge demands from farmers and likely the result of self-reinforcing socio-technical regimes which prioritize production over non- or indirectly-marketable ecosystem services. We conclude that scientists in Europe should diversify research to include legume species, ecosystem services, contexts, and scales not yet well studied, in order to provide the agroecological knowledge base farmers need to amplify the potential benefits of crop diversity.

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Wageningen University

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The Leg Value project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 727672.

European Union Legume Innovation Network