Diversifying crop rotation improves system robustness

  • Junxian Li
  • Lidong Huang
  • Jun Zhang
  • Jeffrey A. Coulter
  • Lingling LiEmail author
  • Yantai GanEmail author
Research Article


Agriculture requires a synergetic improvement in production profitability, long-term viability, and environmental health in the presence of abiotic (i.e., uncontrollable weather, input costs, and product prices) and biotic (i.e., weed pressure and disease infestation) stresses. A “robust” agroecosystem can enhance synergetic improvements by alleviating these stresses, but it is unknown how system robustness can be achieved in a systemic manner. Here, for the first time, we demonstrate that crop diversification can significantly enhance system robustness. An 8-year crop rotation study was conducted, in which 3-year crop sequences were repeated for two cycles, with the first cycle from 2010 to 2012 and the second from 2014 to 2016; each cycle began with a wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) crop, and pea (Pisum sativum L.), lentil (Lens culinaris Medik.), and mustard (Brassica juncea L.) were included in the rotation, and chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.), a N2-fixing legume susceptible to weed pressure and the foliar disease Ascochyta blight, was the last crop in each of the two cycles. Crop diversification improved system resistance to biotic stresses, and that chickpea in the diversified lentil-wheat-chickpea system had the lowest weed biomass and foliar disease severity among rotation systems. Chickpea in the diversified pea-mustard-chickpea system recovered from severe weed pressure by the end of the second cycle in 2016. Diversified systems increased resistance and resilience from abiotic stresses and improved the constancy in crop productivity across rotation cycles, compared to the less diversified systems. Quantitative assessments show that the most diversified systems had a 14% advantage in system robustness. We conclude that diversifying crop rotation improves system robustness through enhancing crop resistance to and resilience from biotic-induc ed disturbances and increasing the constancy of crop productivity while facing disturbance.


Abiotic stress Crop rotation Diversification System resilience Sustainability Perturbation 



We thank Lee Poppy, Ray Leshures, and Limin Luan for their valuable technical assistance with the field plot management and data collection, and Yining Niu, Jianling Fan, and Chen Gu for suggestions on data interpretation and presentation.

Author contributions

YG initiated and designed the research; JL analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript with guidance from YG and LL; LH, JZ, and JAC contributed to the data analysis and manuscript preparation; all authors reviewed and approved the paper; and YG finalized the paper.

Funding information

This study was supported by the MOE-AAFC Ph.D. Research Program (Ministry of Education, China, and Agriculture and Agri-Food, Canada) that was financed by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Rewards 31460337, 31660373, and 31761143004) and the Education Department of Gansu Province, China (Reward 2017C-12). The authors acknowledge the financial support of Saskatchwan Pulse Growers for conducting the field experiments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gansu Provincial Key Lab of Arid Land Crop Science/College of Agronomy Gansu Agricultural UniversityLanzhouChina
  2. 2.Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSwift Current Research and Development CentreSwift CurrentCanada
  3. 3.Department of Agriculture Resources and EnvironmentNanjing University of Information Science and TechnologyNanjingChina
  4. 4.College of ScienceInner Mongolia Agricultural UniversityHohhotChina
  5. 5.Department of Agronomy and Plant GeneticsUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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