About ISAS

Message from the Director

Michio Shibata

All living things on Earth, including human beings, exist within the cycling of matter. Nutrients are incorporated in crops from the air, soil and water, which are then ingested by us humans to replace small fractions of our body, and excreted into the environment before eventually returning to the air, soil and water. The wood harvested in forests also returns to this cycle after providing us with services in the form of timber, paper, and other materials. The production of food and wood thus represents a part of the cycling of matter, and is a tiny fraction of the whole set of cycles at the global scale. While the cycling of matter is constrained by the laws of chemistry and physics in the environment, it is modulated by activities of a myriad of life forms ranging from microbes to animals, which altogether support the ecosystem services in interaction with the environment. As living creatures which exist within the framework of material cycling on this planet, human beings have always depended on the ecosystem services for foods and materials and will have to do so in the future as well.

Apart from the supply of food and wood, we also enjoy other kinds of ecosystem services as well. When you watch beautiful birds, rest among lovely flowers, or chase fascinating insects, you are actually enjoying ecosystem services. Hiking through mountain paths would be merely physical exercise without the unique ecosystem services offered by the aesthetic of vegetation and wildlife. Some ecosystem services may be invisible to most of us, yet they play critical roles in conserving the land and reducing the risks of natural hazards. It cannot be overstated that our current civilization depends more on ecosystem services than ever before.

We are now concerned about the degradation of the ecosystem services due to our own activities. For example, the increasing emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from energy production and land-use changes is going to exert vast impacts on natural ecosystems as well as human society by changing climate at the global scale. Agriculture and forestry are among the human activities responsible for the land-use change and the environmental pollution. The idea that we are deteriorating the basis of our own existence makes many people worry about the fate of future generations. With the human population forecast to grow to about 9 billion within the next several decades, how can each human being continue to enjoy ecosystem services? Answering this question is the ultimate goal here at the Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services (ISAS).

At ISAS, our mission is to study sustainable production in agriculture and forestry. Since the production is often driven by the societal demands, we will also study sustainable consumption for a society in accordance with ecosystem services. To this end, we will have to expand the scope of agricultural and forest sciences beyond production to cover the entire system of ecosystem service provision to society. Our efforts to address the afore-mentioned question have just begun at ISAS. Your continued interest and support in this endeavor is highly appreciated.

April 1, 2016

Michio SHIBATA
Director, the Institute for Sustainable Agro-ecosystem Services, The University of Tokyo

 

Outline

outline

Agriculture in the 20th century has managed to support rapidly growing population by increasing productivity with large inputs of chemicals and energy subsidies. It has, however, left us several challenges, such as increased environmental loadings and greater dependence on fossil fuel energies, to be resolved for long-term sustenance of the human society. The institute aims to conduct research for sustainable provision of foods, forest products and other ecosystem services. Our scope also entails robustness and resilience of the ecosystem services against natural disasters and human perturbations. To these ends, we have set up three research groups.

Informatics and Social Science Group

This group studies the connections of agriculture and forestry with the society with respect to food safety, environmental protection and landscape conservation. Academic disciplines for this group include informatics, agricultural economics, rural sociology, and ecosystem engineering.

Agricultural and Forest Ecology Group

This group studies the management of agricultural and forest ecosystems for better provision of the ecosystem services. Forest ecology, landscape management and conservation technology constitute the bases of the research for this group.

Agricultural Biology and Biogeochemistry Group

Biological processes in agricultural production and their linkages with the soil and atmospheric environment are the major targets of research for this group. The research is done on expertise in plant physiology, crop science, and biogeochemistry.

The members of the research groups have various academic backgrounds, but work together across the disciplines toward the common targets. They also collaborate with the scientists outside ISAS, especially those at the Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the University of Tokyo, to strengthen the expertise needed to attain the targets.

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