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Alley cropping agroforestry systems: Reservoirs for weeds or refugia for plant diversity?

Boinot S., Fried G., Storkey J., Metcalfe H., Barkaoui K., Lauri P.E., Meziere D.. 2019. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, 284 : 13 p..

Alley cropping agroforestry is a land use practice in which arable crops are grown between tree rows. In such agroforestry systems, non-crop herbaceous vegetation develops on the tree rows, resulting in understory vegetation strips (UVS). UVS are perceived both as reservoirs for weeds and opportunities for biodiversity conservation. The purpose of this study was to assess the contribution of UVS to (i) plant spillover and (ii) plant diversity conservation, depending on their functional structure and the farming system. Vegetation surveys were carried out in May 2017 in South-Western France over 16 winter cereal fields (8 alley cropping agroforestry systems and 8 pure crop controls), half under conventional farming and half under organic farming. Using data on plant functional traits related to dispersal strategies and response to agricultural disturbances, we explained the mechanisms involved in plant spillover between habitats. The study revealed that very few species were able to disperse far into crop alleys, except perennial species producing rhizomes and stolons whose spread has been favored by tillage. The presence of UVS in agroforestry fields did not increase weed-crop ratio (i.e. weed coverage / weed and crop coverage) in adjacent crop alleys. On the other hand, UVS harbored richer and more abundant floras (with high proportions of species rarely found in arable habitats) compared to crop alleys and pure crop controls, especially under conventional farming. The functional approach provided insights for weed management in alley cropping agroforestry systems in order to optimize plant diversity conservation without increasing weed-crop ratio. This study showed the relevance of using the functional approach to understand the mechanisms behind plant spillover in cropping systems that integrate semi-natural habitats.

Thématique : Systèmes et modes de culture; Ecologie végétale

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