Comparative Energy-Landscape Integrated Analysis (ELIA) of past and present agroecosystems in North America and Europe from the 1830s to the 2010s

Joan Marull, Claudio Cattaneo, Simone Gingrich, Manuel González de Molina, Gloria I. Guzmán, Andrew Watson, Joshua MacFadyen, Manel Pons, Enric Tello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Along the last century there has been an unprecedented growth in both global food production and related socioecological impacts. The objective of this paper is to analyse the effects of long-term metabolic patterns of agrarian systems on land use and cover changes (LUCC). We have developed an Energy-Landscape Integrated Analysis (ELIA) of agroecosystems to measure the energy storage (E) and the information (I) represented by the complexity of internal energy cycles, in order to correlate both with the energy imprint in the landscape functional-structure (L) that sustains biodiversity. ELIA values are used to assess the agro-ecological landscape transitions in different case studies analysed in North America (Canada and USA) and Europe (Austria and Spain), demonstrating their sensitivity and robustness for case study comparisons on farm-driven environmental change. The results show two stages of the socio-metabolic transition: a first period (from 1830 to 1956) characterized by a non-significant decrease in energy reinvestment (E) and a decrease in energy redistribution (I); and a second period (from 1956 to 2000) with a significant loss of E·I optimal values and associated landscape patterns (L). To overcome the socioecological degradation that these trends implied requires a low external input strategy based on an innovative enhancement of cultural knowledge kept by rural populations, which may help to empower farm communities in the markets and in the public arena. Further research could help to reveal how and why different strategies of agroecosystem management lead to key turning points in the relationship between energy flows, landscape functioning and biodiversity. This research will be very useful for public policies aimed to promote more climate and socioecological resilience of agricultural landscapes and food systems worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-57
Number of pages12
JournalAgricultural Systems
StatePublished - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Agroecosystem complexity
  • Energy return on investment
  • Landscape agroecology
  • Long-term socioecological metabolism
  • Low external input strategy
  • Sustainable farm systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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