Temperate agroforestry research: considering multifunctional woody polycultures and the design of long-term field trials
The many benefits of agroforestry are well-documented, from ecological functions such as biodiversity conservation and water quality improvement, to cultural functions including aesthetic value. In North American agroforestry, however, little emphasis has been placed on production capacity of the woody plants themselves, taking into account their ability to transform portions of the landscape from annual monoculture systems to diversified perennial systems capable of producing fruits, nuts, and timber products. In this paper, we introduce the concept of multifunctional woody polycultures (MWPs) and consider the design of long-term experimental trials for supporting research on agroforestry emphasizing tree crops. Critical aspects of long-term agroforestry experiments are summarized, and two existing well-documented research sites are presented as case studies. A new long-term agroforestry trial at the University of Illinois, “Agroforestry for Food,” is introduced as an experiment designed to test the performance of increasingly complex woody plant combinations in an alley cropping system with productive tree crops. This trial intends to address important themes of food security, climate change, multifunctionality, and applied solutions. The challenges of establishing, maintaining, and funding long-term agroforestry research trials are discussed.