Facilitative Root Interactions in Intercrops

Abstract

Facilitation takes place when plants ameliorate the environment of their neighbours, and increase their growth and survival. Facilitation occurs in natural ecosystems as well as in agroecosystems. We discuss examples of facilitative root interactions in intercropped agroecosystems; including nitrogen transfer between legumes and non-leguminous plants, exploitation of the soil via mycorrhizal fungi and soil-plant processes which alter the mobilisation of plant growth resources such as through exudation of amino acids, extra-cellular enzymes, acidification, competition-induced modification of root architecture, exudation of growth stimulating substances, and biofumigation. Facilitative root interactions are most likely to be of importance in nutrient poor soils and in low-input agroecosystems due to critical interspecific competition for plant growth factors. However, studies from more intensified cropping systems using chemical and mechanical inputs also show that facilitative interactions definitely can be of significance. It is concluded that a better understanding of the mechanisms behind facilitative interactions may allow us to benefit more from these phenomena in agriculture and environmental management.

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