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Oecologia. 2006 Mar;147(2):280-90. Epub 2005 Oct 7.

Root distribution and interactions between intercropped species.

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  • 1Department of Plant Nutrition, College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, China Agricultural University, 100094 Beijing, PR China.


Even though ecologists and agronomists have considered the spatial root distribution of plants to be important for interspecific interactions in natural and agricultural ecosystems, few experimental studies have quantified patterns of root distribution dynamics and their impacts on interspecific interactions. A field experiment was conducted to investigate the relationship between root distribution and interspecific interactions between intercropped plants. Roots were sampled twice by auger and twice by the monolith method in wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)/maize (Zea mays L.) and faba bean (Vicia faba L.)/maize intercropping and in sole wheat, maize, and faba bean up to 100 cm depth in the soil profile. The results showed that the roots of intercropped wheat spread under maize plants, and had much greater root length density (RLD) at all soil depths than sole wheat. The roots of maize intercropped with wheat were limited laterally, but had a greater RLD than sole-cropped maize. The RLD of maize intercropped with faba bean at different soil depths was influenced by intercropping to a smaller extent compared to maize intercropped with wheat. Faba bean had a relatively shallow root distribution, and the roots of intercropped maize spread underneath them. The results support the hypotheses that the overyielding of species showing benefit in the asymmetric interspecific facilitation results from greater lateral deployment of roots and increased RLD, and that compatibility of the spatial root distribution of intercropped species contributes to symmetric interspecific facilitation in the faba bean/maize intercropping.

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