It has been widely argued that agroecological science, which originally developed as the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems, should engage with the social and political issues that affect production agriculture, and incorporate knowledge from a variety of sources. In this paper, we use techniques from network science and bibliometrics to evaluate the degree to which this transformation has taken place. By creating networks based on over 3,000 agroecology papers and the roughly 160,000 references they cite, we distinguish the sub-fields (“research fronts”) that made up agroecology in three time intervals: 1982–2004, 2005–2013, and 2014–2018. We also identify the main disciplines from which the research fronts in 2014–2018 drew their supporting knowledge. We suggest that, very broadly, themes in agroecological research include: Ecosystem services; (agro)biodiversity; approaches to agricultural intensification; tropical agroecosystems (particularly coffee); pest and weed management; organic agriculture; cropping systems; system transitions, modeling, and design; climate change adaptation; food sovereignty; education; and the nature and purpose of agroecology itself. Some research fronts mainly cite papers in natural science fields such as ecology, environmental science, agriculture, and entomology. However, others draw upon work in social science areas including development studies, environmental studies, and anthropology. The analysis presented in this paper demonstrates that agroecology has indeed evolved to possess many of the characteristics of an “ecology of [the entire] food system.” We anticipate that this work will also be of use to those wishing to gain an overview of the field or identify key papers, knowledge gaps, and potential collaborations.
Read the article in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.