Nutrient Use Efficiency: An Ecological Approach
The practice of agriculture by humankind intentionally disturbs the nutrient and energy balance (especially Nand C) of natural ecological systems to produce the food, feed, and fiber needed to sustain human activities. These disturbed ecological systems are generally referred to as agroecosystems. A sustainable agroecosystem is one managed for the long-term profitable production of food, feed, or fiber while utilizing the full potential of biological, chemical and physical processes to conserve natural resources and minimize environmental damage (Elliott et al., 1993). Low nutrient-use efficiency is a major factor contributing to the non-sustainability of agroecosystems. To improve efficiency, a more complete understanding of the processes and mechanisms controlling nutrient cycling is needed to develop sustainable agricultural practices. An understanding of nutrient cycling will help refine farming practices to maintain long-term productivity; protect, preserve, and enhance soil resources; and minimize adverse environmental effects, such as sediment, nutrient, and pesticide contamination of our water resources.