Landscape complexity and US crop production

Figure from paper


Agricultural expansion and intensification have simplified Earth’s landscapes, thereby adversely affecting the biodiversity and ecosystem services that support agricultural production. Field-scale research suggests that increased landcover complexity can improve crop productivity, but less is known about how complexity and crop productivity interact at broader landscape scales. This study evaluates the relationship between landscape complexity and crop yields for counties in the conterminous United States from 2008 to 2018. Our results suggest that the number and quantity of landcover categories on a landscape has a stronger influence on yields than how these landcover categories are arranged on the landscape. Specifically, increased landcover diversity is associated with yield increases for corn and wheat of more than 10%-an effect strength similar to the impact of seasonal precipitation and soil suitability. Notably, landscape configurations that are both moderately complex and also highly diverse are associated with yield increases of more than 20% for corn and wheat. Our findings suggest that increasing the complexity of landcover may provide a way to improve crop productivity in the United States without further extensification or intensification of agriculture.

Nature Food
Dr. Emily Burchfield
Dr. Emily Burchfield
Assistant Professor