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Volume 5 Issue 9, September 2022

A history of sustainable intensification

Intensive crop–livestock systems are productive traditions with deep histories. The archaeological study by Yang and colleagues demonstrates intensification of a pig-and-millet system in North China, similar to the one pictured, where piles of livestock manure dot terraced fields before spring sowing.

See Yang et al.

Image: Ding Li, Lanzhou University. Cover Design: Valentina Monaco.


  • The unfolding energy crisis will have dramatic consequences in many parts of the world, for both people and the planet. Governments should keep that in mind when deciding what to do.



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Research Highlights

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News & Views

  • Co-culture systems produce more food per land unit — offering a sustainable solution to food security. The first step may lie in optimizing for diverse species interaction networks, much like the way engineers design manufacturing systems for optimal productivity.

    • Shweta Singh
    News & Views
  • The management of introduced species, whether kudzu or zebra mussels, is costly and complex. Now, a paper reports a workable, effective solution that harnesses network analyses of ecological phenomena.

    • Brian Leung
    News & Views
  • Early human impacts on the environment can illuminate current sustainability challenges. A new paper argues that 5,500 years ago in North China a positive feedback cycle between two domesticated species sparked ongoing intensification of agriculture production and intervention in nature.

    • Gideon Shelach-Lavi
    News & Views
  • Billions of people across the globe lack access to safe drinking water. Now a study sheds light on the potential for sunlight-based technologies to offer reliable disinfection for rural populations, which are often the most underserved.

    • Andrea I. Silverman
    • Jeremy S. Guest
    News & Views
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Research Briefings

  • The cause of the sudden increase in the complexity of prehistoric societies 4,000–6,000 years ago is unknown. Pig diet and millet-field manuring studies indicate that an intensive millet–pig system developed approximately 5,500 years ago in North China, which provided food for the growing populations of the emerging complex societies.

    Research Briefing
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  • In the face of growing calls to restrict risk analysis to narrow and specific events, this Perspectives argues instead for fully integrated frameworks that bring risk analysis into all aspects of resilience studies.

    • Tom McLeod Logan
    • Terje Aven
    • Roger Flage
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  • Why environmental benefits are valued differently across individuals and regions is not well understood. Using large-scale survey data collected across G20 countries, this study finds that a few social indicators explain the diversity in people’s perceptions of environmental benefits.

    • Kayo Murakami
    • Norihiro Itsubo
    • Koichi Kuriyama
  • Biological invasions involve complex interactions between social and environmental factors, challenging effective management. This study represents the invasion of Minnesota lakes by zebra mussels as a network of interactions and finds that using network metrics can guide effective management.

    • Jaime Ashander
    • Kailin Kroetz
    • Laura E. Dee
  • Intensifying food production sustainably is critical given growing demand and agriculture’s environmental footprint. This meta-analysis finds that practices such as adding organic matter and increasing crop diversity can partly substitute for nitrogen fertilizer to sustain or increase yields.

    • Chloe MacLaren
    • Andrew Mead
    • Jonathan Storkey
  • Ammonia plays a crucial role in the world’s food supply; however, its production from Haber–Bosch process features heavy CO2 emissions and energy consumption. Here the authors show a more sustainable approach to synthesize ammonia utilizing a membrane reactor.

    • Lingting Ye
    • Hao Li
    • Kui Xie
  • The Sustainable Development Goals were launched as a worldwide governance framework, but little is known about their actual political impacts. This study shows evidence that the Sustainable Development Goals have had largely a discursive influence and only limited transformative political impact.

    • Frank Biermann
    • Thomas Hickmann
    • Birka Wicke
    Analysis Open Access
  • Poor access to safe drinking water is a major global sustainability issue. Solar disinfection provides a feasible solution. Here the authors examine the potential of five most typical types of this technology, revealing their unique challenges and opportunities.

    • Inhyeong Jeon
    • Eric C. Ryberg
    • Jae-Hong Kim
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