Plant and Soil

, Volume 182, Issue 1, pp 25–38

Grain yield, symbiotic N2 fixation and interspecific competition for inorganic N in pea-barley intercrops

  • Erik Steen Jensen

DOI: 10.1007/BF00010992

Cite this article as:
Jensen, E.S. Plant Soil (1996) 182: 25. doi:10.1007/BF00010992


The effect of mixed intercropping of field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), compared to monocrop cultivation, on the yield and crop-N dynamics was studied in a 4-yr field experiment using 15N-isotope dilution technique. Crops were grown with or without the supply of 5 g 15N-labeled N m-2. The effect of intercropping on the dry matter and N yields, competition for inorganic N among the intercrop components, symbiotic fixation in pea and N transfer from pea to barley were determined. As an average of four years the grain yields were similar in monocropped pea, monocropped and fertilized barley and the intercrop without N fertilizer supply. Nitrogen fertilization did not influence the intercrop yield, but decreased the proportion of pea in the yield. Relative yield totals (RYT) showed that the environmental sources for plant growth were used from 12 to 31% more efficiently by the intercrop than by the monocrops, and N fertilization decreased RYT-values. Intercrop yields were less stable than monocrop barley yields, but more stable than the yield of monocropped pea. Barley competed strongly for soil and fertilizer N in the intercrop, and was up to 30 times more competitive than pea for inorganic N. Consequently, barley obtained a more than proportionate share of the inorganic N in the intercrop. At maturity the total recovery of fertilizer N was not significantly different between crops, averaging 65% of the supplied N. The fertilizer N recovered in pea constituted only 9% of total fertilizer-N recovery in the intercrop. The amount of symbiotic N2 fixation in the intercrop was less than expected from its composition and the fixation in monocrop. This indicates that the competition from barley had a negative effect on the fixation, perhaps via shading. At maturity, the average amount of N2 fixation was 17.7 g N m-2 in the monocrop and 5.1 g N m-2 in the intercropped pea. A higher proportion of total N in pea was derived from N2 fixation in the intercrop than in the monocrop, on average 82% and 62%, respectively. The 15N enrichment of intercropped barley tended to be slightly lower than of monocropped barley, although not significantly. Consequently, there was no evidence for pea N being transferred to barley. The intercropping advantage in the pea-barley intercrop is mainly due to the complimentary use of soil inorganic and atmospheric N sources by the intercrop components, resulting in reduced competition for inorganic N, rather than a facilitative effect, in which symbiotically fixed N2 is made available to barley.

Key words

Hordeum vulgareintercropping15N-isotope dilution techniqueN transferPisum sativumRelative Yield Total (RYT)







pea monocrop


barley monocrop


pea in intercrop


barley in intercrop

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik Steen Jensen
    • 1
  1. 1.Plant Nutrition, Environmental Science and Technology DepartmentRisø National LaboratoryRoskildeDenmark