European Research Council Grant- Contribute to a long-term perspective on human adaptation and establishment of resilient cultivation systems in dry lands
Today, drylands cover over 40% of the Earth’s surface and are home to approximately 2.3 billion people (International Institute for Environment and Development- iied.org). At the beginning of the 1990s, desertification was recognized as one of the main challenges of sustainable development by the United Nations, and in 1994, the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was created (unccd.int). One of the aims of UNCCD is to put science, technology, and traditional knowledge at the forefront in dealing with desertification. In accordance with these principles, RAINDROPS aims to provide a long-term perspective on human adaptation to and the establishment of resilient cultivation systems in drylands (defined as in the UNCCD, as ‘arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas’).
RAINDROPS’ research is truly interdisciplinary and groundbreaking in several aspects. The project will develop and provide the research community with an innovative and reliable methodology to understand past water management practices for C4 crops. This will further our understanding of human-water dynamics and augment knowledge of past land use strategies to inform global and continental models of land cover and climate change. RAINDROPS’ long-term perspective on human adaptation to drylands can also advise policies that challenge the effects of desertification and can contribute to the debate on food security in drylands. Finally, the proposed project is also relevant to the general field of plant physiology, contributing to the wider work on the improvement of plant adaptation to arid conditions.
The main objectives of RAINDROPS are:
1) to develop a cutting-edge methodology for identifying direct evidence of water management practice from crop remains,
2) to identify strong adaptive practices in drylands cultivation, with particular emphasis on rain-fed agriculture and drought-resistant crops (i.e. finger millet and sorghum); and,
3) to establish past water management and land use practices at three biophysical hotspots in Asia and Africa.
The deliverables from this work are:
1) To assess the potential of isotopic studies in C4 modern plants.
2) To establish the relationship between water availability, isotopic signals, and phytoliths ratio.
3) To assess inter- and intra-sample variability in isotopic signals and phytolith production.
Experimental design and analyses will be conducted on finger millet and sorghum grown in experimental fields at the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, India (in collaboration with V Vadez, theme leader of System analysis for climate-smart agriculture innovation – www.gems.icrisat.org)
The isotopic analysis will be carried out at the Laboratory for Mass-Spectrometry and Isotopic Analyses of the University of Salento (Italy).
For us gems means GEMS, or G*E*M*S (genotype by environment by management by society) interactions, i.e. the fact that crop yields results from complex biophysical interactions while acceptance depends on farmer/consumer preferences. This complexity becomes an opportunity when it is cracked into components that can be analysed, understood, predicted, and then used to prioritise research investments to maximise return. This is what we do, and this is when GEMS become gems!
For us gems means GEMS, or G*E*M*S (genotype by environment by management by society) interactions, i.e. the fact that crop yields results from complex biophysical interactions while acceptance depends on farmer/consumer preferences. This complexity becomes an opportunity when it is cracked into components that can be analyzed, understood, predicted, and then used to prioritize research investments to maximise return. This is what we do, and this is when GEMS become gems!
A crop performs in different ways in different sites, years and agronomic managements. These are called genotype-by-environment-by management(G*E*M) interactions, and they are a main challenge for breeders and agronomists. There is one more layer of interaction, even more complex: the society (S). Farmers and consumers have different desires, needs, expectations, and a cultivar that fits one may not fit the other (G*E*M*S interactions). The puzzle is complex and challenging but if its components are understood, specific interventions can be undertaken.For instance, breeding for a particular genotype (G, with particular physiological characteristics), for a particular environment (E, with a particular kind of drought pattern that requires a specific adaptive trait), in a particular management practice (M, for instance a sowing density, or a N fertilizer treatment), and targeted to particular farmer/consumer (S, for instance a genotype that produces a lot of rich stover for cattle ranchers) is the need of the hour.