Research Strategy

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Within its mission, understanding the functioning of (agro-)ecosystems to design and enable the development of sustainable and multifunctional production and land use systems, research in PE&RC focuses on sustainable production, biodiversity and ecosystem services, the bio-based economy and multifunctional land use, addressing various global crises, such as those on food security, climate and biodiversity loss.

The (agro-)ecosystems within PE&RC cover the full range from intensive agricultural production systems (e.g. greenhouses) to extensive semi‑natural and natural systems (e.g. agroforests, wetlands, savannas and protected areas). Bio- and geosciences are corner stones of PE&RC research on agro- and (semi-)natural ecosystems. To understand these systems, they need to be investigated at various spatial and temporal scales and at different levels of biological integration and complexity. Therefore, PE&RC research challenges are to:

  • Understand the complexity of ecosystems and derive unifying concepts;
  • Develop quantitative approaches in which observation, experimentation and modelling are combined and different scales of observation are quantitatively connected and synthesised;
  • Integrate the different disciplines required and design novel production and land use systems in relevant temporal order and spatial configurations.

Supporting technologies and approaches, such as genomics, remote sensing, (geo-)information systems, and novel statistical and modelling practices are an integral part of the research activities. Moreover, input from the socio-economic sciences is essential for, among others, the design and development of sustainable and multifunctional land use systems (i.e. the interdisciplinary research approach). As socio-economic sciences are not directly part of PE&RC, we communicate and collaborate with these sciences extensively, including via the relevant Graduate Schools.

PE&RC Research Themes

To visualise research in PE&RC, four, partly overlapping, research themes have been identified:

  1. Systems Biology;
  2. Bio-/geo-interactions and Biodiversity;
  3. Complex Adaptive Systems;
  4. Innovative Nature.

These themes have been developed, based on recommendations of the 2009 peer review committee and of the PE&RC International Advisory Board, and guided and inspired by developments in science and society. The research themes are shown in the figure below.


PE&RC research themes are connected across scientific goals and levels of integration. Dotted lines mark the transition to the domains of other graduate schools (e.g. Experimental Plant Sciences). The blue area marks the transition to goals and levels of integration beyond the scope of PE&RC.

PE&RC Focal Areas

Within this framework, 3 focal areas have been identified that would form the basis of the PE&RC research strategy for the coming years (see figure below). These are:

  1. Learning from nature
    The central issue is how to foster ecology-based sustainability and management of ecosystems. The objective is to understand the functioning of ecosystems to design and enable the development of multifunctional, high-yield and resource-efficient production and land use systems that optimally provide and utilize natural ecosystem services.
  2. Global change, food and the environment
    The various global crises such as those on food security, water, climate, and biodiversity show the urgency of addressing these problems using an integral approach that involves social, economic and environmental sustainability and considers systems as networks in which the various parts are connected to each other. The objective of this theme is to contribute to the development of novel adaptive strategies that increase the resilience of both managed and natural systems to global change.
  3. One health
    Humans, crops, livestock, and wild animals and plants are constantly being challenged by pests and (new) diseases. The objective of this theme is to generate more understanding of:
    • The ecological processes behind the epidemiology of diseases and the outbreak of pests and their adjustment to new environmental and biological conditions;
    • The role of biodiversity in regulating disease spread;
    • The genetics of parasites and pathogens, hosts and vectors as related to the risks of disease incidence, development of resistance to control measures, and development of new disease control strategies;
    • integrative ecological-social-economic approaches to disease control.


Focal areas PE&RC_1.jpg

PE&RC focal areas of research within the PE&RC research domain. The PE&RC research groups (represented by the orange circles) cover the domain and provide an essential contribution to the focal areas of research.