Root system dynamics, productivity and N use were studied in inter- and sole crops of field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) on a temperate sandy loam. A 32P tracer placed at a depth of 12.5, 37.5, 62.5 or 87.5 cm was employed to determine root system dynamics by sampling crop leaves at 0, 15, 30 and 45 cm lateral distance. 15N addition was used to estimate N2 fixation by pea, using sole cropped barley as reference crop. The Land Equivalent Ratio (LER), which is defined as the relative land area under sole crops that is required to produce the yields achieved in intercropping, were used to compare the crop growth in intercrops relative to the respective sole crops.
The 32P appearance in leaves revealed that the barley root system grows faster than that of pea. P uptake by the barley root system during early growth stages was approximately 10 days ahead of that of the pea root system in root depth and lateral root distribution. More than 90% of the P uptake by the pea root system was confined to the top 12.5 cm of soil, whereas barley had about 25–30% of tracer P uptake in the 12.5 – 62.5 cm soil layer. Judging from this P uptake, intercropping caused the barley root system to grow deeper and faster lateral root development of both species was observed. Barley accumulated similar amounts of aboveground N when grown as inter- and sole crop, whereas the total aboveground N acquired by pea in the intercrop was only 16% of that acquired in the pea sole crop. The percentage of total aboveground N derived from N2 fixation in sole cropped pea increased from 40% to 80% during the growth period, whereas it was almost constant at 85% in intercropped pea. The total amounts of N2 fixed were 95 and 15 kg N ha−1 in sole cropped and intercropped pea, respectively. Barley was the dominant component of the pea-barley intercrop, obtaining 90% of its sole crop yield, while pea produced only 15% of the grains of a sole crop pea. Intercropping of pea and barley improved the utilization of plant growth resources (LER > 1) as compared to sole crops. Root system distribution in time and space can partly explain interspecific competition. The 32P methodology proved to be a valuable tool for determining root dynamics in intercropping systems.
barley field pea nitrogen fixation 15N isotope dilution principle 32P methodology root system dynamics