, Volume 80, Issue 3, pp 399-409
Date: 16 Jun 2010

Using agroforestry to improve soil fertility: effects of intercropping on Ilex paraguariensis (yerba mate) plantations with Araucaria angustifolia

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Abstract

This study assessed the use of agroforestry to improve soil nutrient properties in plantations containing Ilex paraguariensis St. Hilaire (yerba mate). Intercropping within tree plantation systems is widely practiced by farmers around the World, but the influence of different species combinations on system performance still requires further investigation. I. paraguariensis is a major South American crop commonly cultivated in intensive monocultures on low activity clay soils, which are highly prone to nutrient deficiencies. Study plots were established in 20 plantations in Misiones, Argentina. These involved two species combinations (I. paraguariensis monoculture and I. paraguariensis intercropped with the native tree species Araucaria angustifolia) and two age classes (30 and 50 years old). Chemical soil samples were analysed to determine Ca, Mg, K, P, N, C and Al concentrations, effective CEC (eCEC) and pH at two soil depths (0–5 cm and 5–10 cm). In the younger plantations, the agroforestry sites had lower nutrient levels than I. paraguariensis monoculture sites. However, the monoculture plantations were more susceptible than agroforestry sites to a decline in soil nutrient status over time, particularly with respect to Ca, eCEC, N and C for both soil depths. P concentrations were below detection limits for all sites, potentially reflecting the high P-fixing capacity of the kaolinic soils of this region. While agroforestry systems may be better at maintaining soil quality over time, significant growth increase of I. paraguariensis was apparent only for the monoculture sites.