Concepts in production ecology for analysis and design of animal and plant-animal production systems

G.W.J. van de Ven, N. de Ridder, H. van Keulen, M.K. van Ittersum

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23 Citations (Scopus)


The use of a hierarchy in growth factors (defining, limiting and reducing growth factors), as developed for plant production has shown its usefulness in the analysis and design of plant production systems. This hierarchy presents a theoretical framework for the analysis of biophysical conditions in plant production. We hypothesize that analysis and design of agricultural land use systems is facilitated by development of a similar set of production ecological concepts for animal production, as livestock is often part of such systems. In this paper we present such a hierarchy. We identify growth defining (temperature, daylength, animal genetic characteristics), limiting (water and feed quantity and quality) and reducing (diseases, pollutants and other conditions leading to sub-optimal wellbeing) factors, determining the production of an individual animal, in parallel to their definition for crop production, and aggregate this production to herd scale. We discuss how management intervenes with these factors. Application of the production ecological concepts in design of land use systems ensures that all production systems are based on the prevailing biophysical characteristics and that intrinsic system properties are taken into account. This approach also provides a valuable framework for yield-gap analysis, explaining current production levels, and identifying constraining factors, for setting the research agenda by identifying knowledge gaps and for educational purposes. We illustrate application of the concepts in the exploration and design of alternative animal and mixed plant-animal production systems with two examples. The first example relates to potential production in intensive dairy farming in a temperate climate and the second to feed-limited cattle production in the tropics. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-525
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • land-use systems
  • simulation-models
  • quantification
  • options


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