Reductions in water, soil and nutrient losses and pesticide pollution in agroforestry practices: a review of evidence and processes

  • Xiai ZhuEmail author
  • Wenjie LiuEmail author
  • Jin Chen
  • L. Adrian Bruijnzeel
  • Zhun Mao
  • Xiaodong Yang
  • Rémi Cardinael
  • Fan-Rui Meng
  • Roy C. Sidle
  • Steffen Seitz
  • Vimala D. Nair
  • Kazuki Nanko
  • Xin Zou
  • Chunfeng Chen
  • Xiao Jin Jiang
Regular Article


Background and aims

Agroforestry systems combining trees with crops or pastures have been widely used to reduce water, soil, and nutrient losses and associated water pollution from agricultural lands in both temperate and tropical regions. However, reviews on improvement/efficiency and the scope of such reductions by soil, management, climate, and hydrological processes are limited.


This paper synthesized the available evidence on the reduction in surface runoff, soil erosion, nutrient, and pollutant losses (e.g., herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics) to quantify the effectiveness of agroforestry systems on water quality improvement based on published studies.


On average, agroforestry systems reduced surface runoff, soil, organic carbon, and related nutrient losses by 1–100%, 0–97%, –175–92%, and –265–100%, respectively, with average values of 58%, 65%, 9%, and 50%, respectively. They also lowered herbicide, pesticide, and other pollutant losses by –55–100% (49% on average).


Reduction efficiency of agroforestry systems is site-dependent and varies widely depending on different biophysical factors. A comprehensive science-based review is needed to generalize agroforestry design and site adaptability for water and soil conservation where climatic, geographical, ecological, and socio-economic conditions are relatively similar in the world.


Agroforestry practice Nutrient capture Root system Soil erosion Water contamination 



The authors are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their pertinent and constructive comments. The authors would like to thank Dr. Sissou Zakari and Ashutosh Kumar Singh for reviewing and improving the manuscript prior to submission. We thank the Central Laboratory of XTBG for their help. We also thank the financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31570622 and 41701029), the Natural Science Foundation of Yunnan Province (2014HB042), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences 135-Program (2017XTBG-F01).


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiai Zhu
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Wenjie Liu
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jin Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  • L. Adrian Bruijnzeel
    • 4
  • Zhun Mao
    • 5
  • Xiaodong Yang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Rémi Cardinael
    • 6
    • 7
    • 8
  • Fan-Rui Meng
    • 9
  • Roy C. Sidle
    • 10
  • Steffen Seitz
    • 11
  • Vimala D. Nair
    • 12
  • Kazuki Nanko
    • 13
  • Xin Zou
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Chunfeng Chen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiao Jin Jiang
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Tropical Forest Ecology, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesMenglunChina
  2. 2.Center of Plant Ecology, Core Botanical GardensChinese Academy of SciencesMenglunChina
  3. 3.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  4. 4.King’s College LondonLondonUK
  5. 5.AMAP, INRA, CNRS, IRD, CIRADUniversity of MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  6. 6.CIRAD, UPR AIDAMontpellierFrance
  7. 7.AIDA, CIRADUniversity of MontpellierMontpellierFrance
  8. 8.Crop Science DepartmentUniversity of ZimbabweHarareZimbabwe
  9. 9.Faculty of Forestry & Environmental ManagementFrederictonCanada
  10. 10.Mountain Societies Research InstituteUniversity of Central AsiaKhorogTajikistan
  11. 11.Soil Science and GeomorphologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  12. 12.Soil and Water Sciences DepartmentUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  13. 13.Department of Disaster Prevention, Meteorology and HydrologyForestry and Forest Products Research InstituteIbarakiJapan

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