Ecosystems are as dynamic and complex as the plant, animal, microbial and the nonliving components of which they are made. Humans are an integral part of most ecosystems--not only are we agents of change, but we are consumers of ecosystem goods and services. The goal of NIFA's ecosystem programs is to increase the scientific and public understanding that human well-being is inextricably linked to the sustainable use and management of ecosystems.
Ecosystems are life-sustaining interactions among plants, animals, and microorganisms working together in their environment. To function efficiently, an ecosystem's living constituents must be in balance with available resources and conditions. This balance can be adversely affected by disturbances such as disease, predators, fire, and human activity. There are many indications that human demands on ecosystems are growing. Recent estimates of a doubling of the human population and a quadrupling of the world's economy by 2050 imply a formidable increase in demand for and consumption of biological and physical resources. The problem posed by the growing demand for ecosystem services is compounded by increasingly serious degradation in the capability of many ecosystems to provide these services. The NIFA Ecosystem Program focuses on the impact of agriculture, forest, and rangeland practices on ecological health and development and support for research, education, and extension activities that promote the sustainability of food, fiber, and forage production.
Critical issues include land management practices and changes in land use; improved sustainability and management, including tillage practices; animal manure management; forest and rangeland fuel management; conservation corridors and buffer strips; invasive species; landscape scale changes, such as fire, wind, and urban development; harvesting; pathogen and disease infestations; drought and flooding; climate changes; watershed and air shed protection; and landscape fragmentation.
Future agricultural productivity depends on our ability to make use of the Earth's renewable natural resources without depleting them. Understanding how agricultural practices affect all types of ecosystems is critical to achieving sustainable production. NIFA supports innovative sustainable strategies to optimize production, conservation, and restoration of farms, forests, rangeland and other types of agro-ecosystems.
In addition to non-capacity grants, NIFA provides support for research and extension activities at land-grant institutions through grants to the states on the basis of statutory formulas. Eligibility is limited to the cooperating institutions, most of which are 1862, 1890, and 1994 land-grant institutions.