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The effects of tree spacing regime and tree species composition on mineral nutrient composition of cocoa beans and canarium nuts in 8-year-old cocoa plantations

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The selection of shade trees with appropriate spacing is important for minimising their impact on nutrient accumulation by understorey cash crops in agroforestry systems. Cocoa trees may be intercropped with overstorey legume or non-legume shade trees. A legume tree and/or a non-legume timber tree with edible kernels (Gliricidia sepium and Canarium indicum, respectively) are used as shade trees in cocoa plantations particularly in Papua New Guinea. This study explored the nutrient concentrations of cocoa beans in response to both tree-shade species and shade-tree spacing regime. The study also investigated the extent to which C. indicum tree spacing altered the nutrient concentrations of canarium kernels. G. sepium trees in the study had a final spacing of 12 m × 12 m while the spacing regimes of either 8 m × 8 m or 8 m × 16 m used for C. indicum. The calcium (Ca) concentrations of cocoa beans did not differ significantly between plants located next to G. sepium and plants located next to C. indicum. Cocoa beans next to C. indicum trees with spacing of 8 m × 16 m had higher potassium (K) concentrations than those next to G. sepium trees. However, phosphorus (P) concentrations of cocoa beans next to C. indicum trees with spacing of 8 m × 8 m or next to G. sepium trees were significantly higher than those next to C. indicum trees with spacing of 8 m × 16 m. The K concentrations in cocoa beans and soil were not correlated nor were the P concentrations in cocoa beans and soil. Correlations between nutrients in leaves and cocoa beans, or between leaves and canarium kernels, were not strong. Our results suggest that cocoa and canarium trees can be intercropped successfully, and that they do not compete for soil nutrients.

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We thank the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Papua New Guinea Government for support to undertake this study with special thanks to the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) and the Cocoa Coconut Institute (CCI) in Keravat, New East Britain, for providing access to the experimental sites. We thank NARI and CCI staff who contributed significantly to sample collection and preparation.


Financial support was provided by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (project FST/2014/099).

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Correspondence to Shahla Hosseini-Bai.

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Hosseini-Bai, S., Trueman, S.J., Nevenimo, T. et al. The effects of tree spacing regime and tree species composition on mineral nutrient composition of cocoa beans and canarium nuts in 8-year-old cocoa plantations. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 22021–22029 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-019-05519-x

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  • Agroforestry
  • Calcium
  • Canarium indicum
  • Non-timber product
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium