Open Access
Agron. Sustain. Dev.
Volume 29, Number 1, January-March 2009
Page(s) 43 - 62
Published online 15 March 2008
Agron. Sustain. Dev. 29 (2009) 43-62
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2007057

Mixing plant species in cropping systems: concepts, tools and models. A review

E. Malézieux1, Y. Crozat2, C. Dupraz3, M. Laurans4, D. Makowski5, H. Ozier-Lafontaine6, B. Rapidel1, 7, S. de Tourdonnet5 and M. Valantin-Morison5

1  CIRAD, UMR SYSTEM, Montpellier, 34060 France
2  Groupe ESA, Laboratoire d'Écophysiologie Végétale et Agroécologie, 55 rue Rabelais, 49007 Angers Cedex 01, France
3  INRA, UMR SYSTEM, Montpellier, 34060 France
4  CIRAD, UMR AMAP, Montpellier, 34000 France
5  INRA, UMR 211 INRA AgroParisTech, BP 01, 78850 Thiverval-Grignon, France
6  INRA, Unité AgroPédoclimatique de la Zone Caraïbe, Domaine Duclos, 97170 Petit-Bourg, Guadeloupe, France
7  CATIE, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Accepted 30 November 2007 ; published online 15 March 2008

Abstract - The evolution of natural ecosystems is controled by a high level of biodiversity, In sharp contrast, intensive agricultural systems involve monocultures associated with high input of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Intensive agricultural systems have clearly negative impacts on soil and water quality and on biodiversity conservation. Alternatively, cropping systems based on carefully designed species mixtures reveal many potential advantages under various conditions, both in temperate and tropical agriculture. This article reviews those potential advantages by addressing the reasons for mixing plant species; the concepts and tools required for understanding and designing cropping systems with mixed species; and the ways of simulating multispecies cropping systems with models. Multispecies systems are diverse and may include annual and perennial crops on a gradient of complexity from 2 to n species. A literature survey shows potential advantages such as (1) higher overall productivity, (2) better control of pests and diseases, (3) enhanced ecological services and (4) greater economic profitability. Agronomic and ecological conceptual frameworks are examined for a clearer understanding of cropping systems, including the concepts of competition and facilitation, above- and belowground interactions and the types of biological interactions between species that enable better pest management in the system. After a review of existing models, future directions in modelling plant mixtures are proposed. We conclude on the need to enhance agricultural research on these multispecies systems, combining both agronomic and ecological concepts and tools.

Key words: species mixture / plant mixture / cropping system / agroforestry system / agrobiodiversity / resource sharing / crop model / competition  / facilitation

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2008