Plants dominate today’s biosphere. Because of their numbers, diversity, and ubiquity (on land and in water), plants are by far the most important primary producers on Earth. Through photosynthesis, plants control our atmosphere and capture the incident energy from the Sun, which provides nearly all of the chemical energy required to support the entire food chain that makes up the vast biodiversity of life on Earth.
Plants support not just the food and planetary conditions required for life, they provide a staggering array of natural products that are the basis of many of our medicinals, dyes, spices, plastics, and fine chemicals. The products of photosynthesis are also harvested to provide the fibers with which we make clothing, paper, and lumber. Photosynthesis by plants provides sources of fuel, both fossil (such as coal) and so-called biofuels (such as ethanol).
Agriculture is fundamental to human life on Earth. Crop production supports all aspects of agriculture, including production of livestock. There are an estimated 50,000 edible plant species, but fewer than 300 have been domesticated as crops. Industrial agriculture, with its dependence on machinery, chemicals and monocropping, is widely practiced today and 90% of the world’s land used for crop production is planted to just 15 crop species (the top 5 are rice, wheat, maize, soybeans, and cotton). Yet many other crops play essential roles in food security, nutrition, cultural tradition, and dietary diversity of the world’s people.
An encyclopedia that focuses on both plants in general and crop plants is unique and necessary. While academically distinct, the fields of plant biology and crop sciences are interdependent, and so deserve mutual treatment in a single volume. One of the major developments in plant sciences in recent decades has been the discovery of common biological properties, from genomes to development and from metabolism to reproduction that all plants share. Fundamental studies on model plants, such as Arabidopsis thaliana, are contributing to our practical understanding of all plants, as have studies on model crops, such as rice and tomato. Lessons from plant evolution and ecology have found application in agriculture, and vice versa. In other words, although the subjects in this single reference are located in different academic departments, a goal of this encyclopedia is to lie these ideas next to each other. Increasingly, scientists who study plants as botanists and those who study plants as crops have found common ground and common interests, which has strengthened communication across formerly distant disciplines and the disciplines themselves.
The Encyclopedia of Plant and Crop Sciences represents the concerted effort of hundreds of scientists from around the world to present current knowledge about plant life on Earth. The overview format is intended to be accessible to a range of scientists, agriculturalists, policy makers, science writers, students, and the public. Our aim has been to provide authoritative, yet accessible, articles that canvass the major topics from evolution to molecular biology, from ecology to morphology, from physical systems to cropping systems. Selected references accompany every article, intended to help the interested reader delve further into each topic.
Preparing this volume has been a real team effort. I am especially grateful to Oona Schmid, Encyclopedias Editor and Supervisor, along with the able assistance of Gretchen Goode at Marcel Dekker, Inc., who have been delightful to work with and incredibly effective in every way. And I extend my sincere thanks to a superb team of topical editors, authors, and members of the editorial board for hanging in there and making this project a success.
To our readers, we offer you this reference. To the extent that you find it useful, we’d like to hear why and how (EPCS@TaylorandFrancis.com). To the extent that you find it wanting, we also, and especially, want to hear how you believe we can make it better. The publisher as well as the topical editors are committed to continual updating and refinement of what we believe is a valuable resource for transmitting knowledge and understanding about the plants that make life on Earth possible.
Robert M. Goodman
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey