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Cover crop crucifer-legume mixtures provide effective nitrate catch crop and nitrogen green manure ecosystem services

Couëdel A., Alletto L., Tribouillois H., Justes E.. 2018. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 254 : p. 50-59.

DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2017.11.017

During the fallow period, crucifers grown as catch crops are known to effectively reduce nitrate leaching, while legumes act mainly as green manure by releasing large amounts of mineral nitrogen (N) for the subsequent cash crop once incorporated into the soil. Crucifer-legume cover crop mixtures could be an effective solution for obtaining these two ecosystem services because they combine advantages of both species. However, crucifers might be a poor companion crop due to their high competition for abiotic resources and a potential allelopathic effect on legumes when grown with them. The aim of our study was to assess performances of a wide range of bispecific crucifer-legume mixtures to provide both catch crop and green manure services. A two-year experiment was conducted at two sites (near Toulouse and Orléans, France) where cultivars from eight crucifer species (rape, white mustard, Indian mustard, Ethiopian mustard, turnip, turnip rape, radish and rocket) and nine legume species (Egyptian clover, crimson clover, common vetch, purple vetch, hairy vetch, pea, soya bean, faba bean, and white lupin) were tested in sole-crop and bispecific mixtures (substitutive design of 50%-50% sole crops). We measured cover crop biomass and N acquisition to assess the soil nitrate catch crop service and N green manure service for the subsequent cash crop. In all experiments, compared to bare soil, crucifer-legume mixtures and crucifer sole cover crops provided the same level of nitrate catch crop service by reducing soil mineral N by an average of 59%, while legume sole cover crops reduced it by at least 35%, which is significant. In addition, within 6 months after termination, crucifer-legume mixtures mineralised more N (mean of 22 kg N ha-1) and thus had a larger N green manure effect for the subsequent cash crop than crucifer sole cover crops (mean of 8 kg N ha-1). This was due to greater N acquisition and a lower C:N ratio of crucifer-legume mixtures; even though crucifers always had advantage in acquiring N, legumes acquired enough N to provide an effective green manure service. These results were consistent in all of our experiments, which represent a wide range of crucifer-legume cover crops, demonstrating their generality. They also demonstrate the compatibility and complementarity of these species when grown together. In conclusion, combining crucifers and legumes as cover crops is an effective solution for obtaining multi-ecosystem services related to N recycling by providing both nitrate catch crop and N green manure services.

Mots-clés : biodiversité; fertilisation; engrais vert; france

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