Multi-country evidence that crop diversification promotes ecological intensification of agriculture

  • Nature Plants 2, Article number: 16014 (2016)
  • doi:10.1038/nplants.2016.14
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Global food security requires increased crop productivity to meet escalating demand1–3. Current food production systems are heavily dependent on synthetic inputs that threaten the environment and human well-being2,4,5. Biodiversity, for instance, is key to the provision of ecosystem services such as pest control6,7, but is eroded in conventional agricultural systems. Yet the conservation and reinstatement of biodiversity is challenging5,8,9, and it remains unclear whether the promotion of biodiversity can reduce reliance on inputs without penalizing yields on a regional scale. Here we present results from multi-site field studies replicated in Thailand, China and Vietnam over a period of four years, in which we grew nectar-producing plants around rice fields, and monitored levels of pest infestation, insecticide use and yields. Compiling the data from all sites, we report that this inexpensive intervention significantly reduced populations of two key pests, reduced insecticide applications by 70%, increased grain yields by 5% and delivered an economic advantage of 7.5%. Additional field studies showed that predators and parasitoids of the main rice pests, together with detritivores, were more abundant in the presence of nectar-producing plants. We conclude that a simple diversification approach, in this case the growth of nectar-producing plants, can contribute to the ecological intensification of agricultural systems.

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This work was supported by the Asian Development Bank (TA7648-R-RDTA) and National Basic Research Program of China (973, grant no. 2010CB126200). G.M.G. is supported by a Chinese Government Thousand Talents fellowship. We thank the farmers who hosted field experiments and J. Tylianakis (Christchurch University, New Zealand) for comments on this manuscript. Assistance with arthropod sorting and taxonomy was provided by Y. Yang, G. Wenqin, L. Ding and D. Biqing of Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and F. Zhang and X. Sheng of Jianhua Plant Protection Station, China.

Author information

Author notes

    • Geoff M. Gurr
    •  & Zhongxian Lu

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Institute of Applied Ecology, Fujian Agriculture and Forestry, University, Fuzhou, Fujian 35002, China

    • Geoff M. Gurr
    •  & David J. Perovic
  2. Graham Centre, Charles Sturt University, Orange, New South Wales 2800, Australia

    • Geoff M. Gurr
    •  & Helen I. Nicol
  3. State Key Laboratory Breeding Base for Zhejiang Sustainable Pest and Disease Control, Institute of Plant Protection and Microbiology, Zhejiang Academy of Agriculture Sciences, Hangzhou 310021, China

    • Zhongxian Lu
    • , Xusong Zheng
    •  & Hongxing Xu
  4. Jinhua Plant Protection Station, Jinhua 321017, China

    • Pingyang Zhu
    • , Guihua Chen
    •  & Xiaoming Yao
  5. Institute of Insect Sciences, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou 310058, China

    • Jiaan Cheng
    •  & Zengrong Zhu
  6. Crop and Environmental Sciences Division, International Rice Research Institute, DAPO Box 7777, Metro Manila 1301, The Philippines

    • Josie Lynn Catindig
    • , Sylvia Villareal
    •  & Kong Luen Heong
  7. Southern Regional Plant Protection Center, Long Dinh 860000, Vietnam

    • Ho Van Chien
    •  & Le Quoc Cuong
  8. Chainat Rice Research Center, Chainat 17000, Thailand

    • Chairat Channoo
    •  & Nalinee Chengwattana
  9. Institute of Agricultural Science for Southern Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City 700000, Vietnam

    • La Pham Lan
  10. TienGiang University, Tien Giang 860000, Vietnam

    • Le Huu Hai
  11. Rice Department, Bureau of Rice Research and Development, Bangkok 10220, Thailand

    • Jintana Chaiwong
  12. Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, Christchurch 7642, New Zealand

    • Steve D. Wratten
  13. Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International (CABI), South East Asia, Regional Centre, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Serdang 43400, Malaysia

    • Kong Luen Heong


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G.M.G. and K.L.H. conceived and designed the project; Z.L., Z.Z., J.C. and G.C. led the Chinese studies supported by X.Z., X.Y., H.X. and P.Z.; H.V.C. and L.Q.C. led the Vietnamese studies; C.C. led the Thai studies; N.C. and P.Z. performed the bait plant study; and P.Z. and X.Z. performed the factorial study; P.V., J.L.C., L.P.L., J.C. and S.V. identified arthropods; H.I.N., D.J.P. and G.M.G. analysed the data; G.M.G. led the manuscript writing with input from all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kong Luen Heong.

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