Special |

Sustainability

Pollution, climate change, depleted water reserves and a reduction in biodiversity are among the most alarming consequences of the harm inflicted on the environment by humans’ uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources. The extent of damage is huge and will affect the well-being of future generations. This selection of News, Comment, Review and Research articles from Nature and relevant Nature Research Journals explores the priorities for building a sustainable future.

Agriculture is often viewed as a source of problems needing innovative solutions. But agriculture can actually be a source of innovations for the bioeconomy, if researchers embrace the cultural changes needed.

Comment | | Nature Plants

Soil microorganisms have long been known to aid plants through nitrogen fixation and water and nutrient exchange. Now researchers are unearthing new ways in which this subterranean biome affects plant performance.

News | | Nature Plants

Plant science has an important part to play in meeting the global food security challenge. But, advances will be most effective if better coupled with agronomic science and the broader food security agenda.

Comment | | Nature Plants

Raising the water productivity of crops, such that they yield more with less water, is one route to raising food production over the coming century. To achieve this goal, breeders must look beyond the conservative strategies that plants employ to cope with drought in the wild.

Comment | | Nature Plants

The history of attempts to spread scientific know-how beyond western centres of excellence is littered with failures. Capacity building needs long-term commitment, a critical mass of trainees, and a supportive home environment.

Commentary | | Nature Geoscience

Consistent with their historical focus on the functional utility of plants, botanical gardens have an important opportunity to help ensure global food and ecosystem security by expanding their living collections, research and education programmes to emphasize agriculture and its impacts.

Comment | | Nature Plants

Evolving agricultural practices dramatically increased crop production in the twentieth century. Two studies now find that this has altered the seasonal flux of atmospheric carbon dioxide. See Letters p.394 & p.398

News & Views | | Nature

Renewable energy requires infrastructures built with metals whose extraction requires more and more energy. More mining is unavoidable, but increased recycling, substitution and careful design of new high-tech devices will help meet the growing demand.

Commentary | | Nature Geoscience

An analysis reveals the huge impact of human activity on the nitrogen cycle in China. With global use of Earth's resources rising per head, the findings call for a re-evaluation of the consumption patterns of developed societies. See Letter p.459

News & Views | | Nature

Data on bulk nitrogen deposition, plant foliar nitrogen and crop nitrogen uptake in China between ad 1980 and ad 2010 show that the average annual bulk deposition of nitrogen increased by approximately 8 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare during that period and that nitrogen deposition rates in the industrialized and agriculturally intensified regions of China are as high as the peak levels of deposition in northwestern Europe in the 1980s.

Letter | | Nature

An index assessing the health of the oceans gives a global score of 60 out of 100. But the idea that a single number can encompass both environmental status and the benefits that the oceans provide for humans may prove controversial. See Article p.615

News & Views | | Nature

Careful analysis reveals that the global uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions by carbon sinks has doubled during the past 50 years — but the fractions of this absorbed by land and by sea remain unclear. See Letter p.70

News & Views | | Nature

If architecture is 'design for living', one of its greatest challenges is how to live with the masses of waste we excrete. Four pioneers in green sanitation design outline solutions to a dilemma too often shunted down the pan.

Books & Arts | | Nature

Two decades ago the first Earth Summit raised the question of how biological diversity loss alters ecosystem functioning and affects humanity; this Review looks at the progress made towards answering this question.

Review Article | | Nature

International trade is the underlying cause of 30% of threatened animal species extinctions, according to a modelling analysis of the impact of global supply chains and consumption patterns on biodiversity. See Letter p.109

News & Views | | Nature

There is evidence that human influence may be forcing the global ecosystem towards a rapid, irreversible, planetary-scale shift into a state unknown in human experience.

Review Article | | Nature

Biodiversity threats from Red Lists are linked with patterns of international trade, identifying the ultimate instigators of the threats; developed countries tend to be net importers of implicated commodities, driving biodiversity decline in developing countries.

Letter | | Nature

A meta-analysis of agricultural systems shows that organic yields are mostly lower than those from conventional farming, but that organic crops perform well in some contexts. Agricultural scientists discuss whether the conclusions of the study should change farming practices and management. See Letter p.229

News & Views Forum | | Nature

Pathogenic fungi are increasingly contributing to the global emerging disease burden, threatening biodiversity and imposing increasing costs on ecosystem health, hence steps must be taken to tighten biosecurity worldwide to reduce the rate of fungal disease emergence.

Review Article | | Nature