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Crop Biotech Update

Computational Model Shows Effects of Crop Rotation Against Plant Pests

January 29, 2020

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology developed a new computational model that projected how different crop rotation patterns can have a long-term effect on a crop's yield and their defense against plant pathogens.

Previous studies involving crop rotation have established two conclusions. First, it was documented that switching the environment where a pathogen grows can limit its reproduction and alter its evolution. Second, crop rotation is known to improve pest control and soil quality. The scientists took note of these concepts and decided to combine them in a research investigation since both are rarely studied together from an evolutionary point of view.

The researchers developed a computational model that investigated a scenario wherein cash crops were planted alternately with cover crops, then factoring in a pathogen that only affected the cash crop and taking evolutionary theory into account. The analysis suggested that in the long run, the effects of crop rotation depends on its ability to maintain soil quality while reducing pathogen load during harvest time. It was also noted that switching regular rotations every other year may not be optimal. Moreover, the study was able to identify which crop rotation pattern can help make the most out of a crop's produce over a long-term scenario.

The study proved how evolutionary theory can complement the farmers' knowledge and best practices, and indicated that evolutionary principles can help design farming strategies for optimal efficiency in crop production.  The results can also help determine better and more efficient crop production practices by combining crop rotation and the use of genetically modified crops, specifically those with pest-resistant traits. Such investigations can help develop crop rotation patterns for specific crops and pests to contribute to global food security and sustainability.

Read the complete study details in PLOS.

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