Improving intercropping: a synthesis of research in agronomy, plant physiology and ecology

Rob W Brooker, Alison E Bennett, Wen-Feng Cong, Tim J Daniell, Timothy S George, Paul D Hallett, Cathy Hawes, Pietro P M Iannetta, Hamlyn G Jones, Alison J Karley, Long Li, Blair M McKenzie, Robin J Pakeman, Eric Paterson, Christian Schöb, Jianbo Shen, Geoff Squire, Christine A Watson, Chaochun Zhang, Fusuo ZhangJunling Zhang, Philip J White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

303 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Intercropping is a farming practice involving two or more crop species, or genotypes, growing together and coexisting for a time. On the fringes of modern intensive agriculture, intercropping is important in many subsistence or low-input/resource-limited agricultural systems. By allowing genuine yield gains without increased inputs, or greater stability of yield with decreased inputs, intercropping could be one route to delivering ‘sustainable intensification’. We discuss how recent knowledge from agronomy, plant physiology and ecology can be combined with the aim of improving intercropping systems. Recent advances in agronomy and plant physiology include better understanding of the mechanisms of interactions between crop genotypes and species – for example, enhanced resource availability through niche complementarity. Ecological advances include better understanding of the context-dependency of interactions, the mechanisms behind disease and pest avoidance, the links between above- and below-ground systems, and the role of microtopographic variation in coexistence. This improved understanding can guide approaches for improving intercropping systems, including breeding crops for intercropping. Although such advances can help to improve intercropping systems, we suggest that other topics also need addressing. These include better assessment of the wider benefits of intercropping in terms of multiple ecosystem services, collaboration with agricultural engineering, and more effective interdisciplinary research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-117
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Volume206
Issue number1
Early online date3 Nov 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Keywords

  • agriculture
  • ecosystem services
  • intercropping
  • organismal interactions
  • resource use
  • soil biodiversity
  • sustainable intensification

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