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A trait-based characterization of cover plants to assess their potential to provide a set of ecological services in banana cropping systems

Damour G., Dorel M., Tran Quoc H., Meynard C., Risède J.M.. 2014. European Journal of Agronomy, 52 (B) : p. 218-228.

DOI: 10.18167/DVN1/EZPGCP

DOI: 10.1016/j.eja.2013.09.004

Cover plants are one of the means to increase the functional biodiversity of fields and to enhance the ecological functions of the communities. However, the design of cropping systems including cover plants relies largely on expert knowledge. There is a lack of methods to select the best suited cover plants according to their role in the agrosystem. We propose to use functional traits to select cover plants suited to sustain ecological services in the banana agrosystems of the French West Indies. Our objectives were (i) to characterize a collection of cover plants on a trait basis, according to their potential to provide the services expected in a banana agrosystem and (ii) to discuss the potential use of this characterization for the design of innovative multi-species banana cropping systems. In these systems, four main services are targeted, i.e. controlling weeds, controlling plant-parasitic nematodes, improving soil fertility and particularly N availability, and avoiding competition with banana for resource acquisition. Three experiments were conducted, under field and controlled conditions, to evaluate the potential of a collection of 28 tropical cover plants to achieve the functions related to these services. For each cover plant, a functional profile was constructed from a combination of plant traits that are easy to assess experimentally. It described plants' potential to achieve the functions expected in a banana agrosystem. Functional profiles required for cover plant usages were also identified. The comparison of the plant functional profiles and the functional profiles required for their usages enabled us to select the best suited plants for each usage. However, these functional profiles rarely corresponded, meaning that a cover plant is rarely sufficient to achieve all the functions required for a usage. Functional complementarities obtained by the mixture of different species of cover plants are thus often required. Compared to classical approaches of innovative cropping system design based on the experimental testing of spatial and temporal plant combinations, such a trait-based approach saves time by focusing on a shortlist of cover plants best suited according to their functions in the agrosystem.

Mots-clés : musa; système de culture; agroécosystème; plante de couverture; services écosystémiques; guadeloupe; france

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