Marschner Review

Plant and Soil

, Volume 376, Issue 1, pp 1-29

Plant: soil interactions in temperate multi-cropping production systems

  • Jürgen EhrmannAffiliated withEnvironmental Science and Technology Department, School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University
  • , Karl RitzAffiliated withEnvironmental Science and Technology Department, School of Applied Sciences, Cranfield University Email author 


Background and scope

Multi-cropping approaches in production systems, where more than one crop cultivar or species are grown simultaneously, are gaining increased attention and application. Benefits can include increased production, effective pest, disease and weed control, and improved soil health. The effects of such practices on the range of interactions within the plant-soil system are manifest via plant interspecific competition, pest and disease attenuation, soil community composition and structure, nutrient cycling, and soil structural dynamics. Interplant diversity and competition effectively increases the nature and extent of root networks, tending to lead to more efficient resource use in time and space. Increased competitive ability at a system level, and allelopathic interactions, can reduce weed, pest and disease severity. Soil biotic communities are affected by plant diversity, which can increase abundance, diversity and activity of functional groups. Attendant rhizosphere-located processes can facilitate nutrient uptake between component crops. Whilst there are few studies into multi-cropping effects on soil structure, it is hypothesised that such processes are manifest particularly via the role which the belowground biota play in soil structural dynamics. A deeper understanding of eco-physiological processes affecting weed, pest and disease dynamics in the context of multiple cropping scenarios, and breeding cultivars to optimise mutualistic and allelopathic traits of crop mixtures could significantly increase productivity and adoption of more sustainable farming practices.


Wider consideration needs to be given to plant: soil interactions when crop plants are grown in the context of mixtures, i.e. as communities as opposed to monotonous populations. In particular, a better understanding is required of how root systems develop in the context of mixtures and the extent to which resultant interactions with the soil biota are context-dependent. A significant challenge is that crop cultivars or production systems optimised for monocultural circumstances should not be assumed to be most suited for multi-cropping scenarios, and hence alternative strategies for developing new production systems need to take this into account.


Intercropping Plant interspecific competition Soil biotic communities Biological weed, pest and disease control Nutrient facilitation Soil structure