Global systematic review with meta-analysis reveals yield advantage of legume-based rotations and its drivers

Jie Zhao, Ji Chen, Damien Beillouin, Hans Lambers, Yadong Yang, Pete Smith, Zhaohai Zeng*, Jørgen E. Olesen, Huadong Zang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Diversified cropping systems, especially those including legumes, have been proposed to enhance food production with reduced inputs and environmental impacts. However, the impact of legume pre-crops on main crop yield and its drivers has never been systematically investigated in a global context. Here, we synthesize 11,768 yield observations from 462 field experiments comparing legume-based and non-legume cropping systems and show that legumes enhanced main crop yield by 20%. These yield advantages decline with increasing N fertilizer rates and crop diversity of the main cropping system. The yield benefits are consistent among main crops (e.g., rice, wheat, maize) and evident across pedo-climatic regions. Moreover, greater yield advantages (32% vs. 7%) are observed in low- vs. high-yielding environments, suggesting legumes increase crop production with low inputs (e.g., in Africa or organic agriculture). In conclusion, our study suggests that legume-based rotations offer a critical pathway for enhancing global crop production, especially when integrated into low-input and low-diversity agricultural systems.

Crop rotations including legumes have been proposed as a strategy to enhance food production. Here, the authors conduct a global meta-analysis on legume-based crop rotations, showing that legume pre-crops increase 20% of yield in average across various crops and climatic regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4926
Pages (from-to)4926
Number of pages9
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2022


  • Agriculture
  • Crop Production
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Fabaceae
  • Fertilizers/analysis
  • Vegetables


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