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Regional specialization and market integration: agroecosystem energy transitions in Upper Austria

Gingrich, Simone, Theurl, MichaelaClarissa, Erb, Karlheinz, Krausmann, Fridolin
Regional environmental change 2018 v.18 no.4 pp. 937-950
agricultural land, agroecosystems, animal products, biomass, crops, energy flow, forests, labor, livestock, markets, rearing, recycling, seeds, society, sustainable land management, wood, Austria
We investigate agroecosystem energy flows in two Upper Austrian regions, the lowland region Sankt Florian and the prealpine region Grünburg, at five time points between 1830 and 2000. Energetic agroecosystem productivity (energy contents of crops, livestock products, and wood per unit area) is compared to different types of energy inputs, i.e., external inputs from society (labor, industrial inputs, and external biomass inputs) and biomass reused from the local agroecosystem (feed, litter, and seeds). Energy transfers between different compartments of the agroecosystem (agricultural land, forest, and livestock) are also quantified. This allows for delineating an agroecosystem energy transition: In the first stage of this transition, i.e., in the nineteenth century, agroecosystem productivity was low (final produce ranged between 14 and 27 GJ/ha/yr), and local biomass reused made up 97% of total energy inputs in both regions (25–61 GJ/ha/yr). In this period, agroecosystem productivity increase was achieved primarily through more recycling of energy flows within the agroecosystems. In the second stage of the agroecosystem energy transition, i.e., after World War II, external energy inputs increased by factors 2.5 (Sankt Florian) and 5.0 (Grünburg), partly replacing local energy transfers. Final produce per area increased by factors 6.1 (Sankt Florian) and 2.9 (Grünburg). The difference in the resulting energy returns on investment (EROI) owes to regional specialization on cropping versus livestock rearing and to increasing market integration. Our results suggest that sustainable land-use intensification may benefit from some regional specialization harnessing local production potentials based on a mix of local and external inputs.