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Effects of planting food crops on survival and early growth of timber trees in eastern Panama

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Abstract

Restoration of degraded pasture lands in the tropics through afforestation is widely supported. The greatest obstacle to afforestation, however, is the long delay before initial financial returns from wood harvesting are realized. Interplanting young trees with food or energy crops has been proposed as a strategy to help overcome this obstacle. We investigated the impact of this practice on the survival and growth performance of young tropical tree seedlings in Panama. Five native timber tree species and the exotic species Tectona grandis were interplanted with four different crop rotations and monitored over 2 years. Survival of young tree seedlings was up to eight times higher when planted in association with Manihot esculenta. Only during the first 3 months after maize sowing was a significant negative effect of intercropping on tree seedling survival found. Here, survival rate of tree seedlings was up to four times lower than in the pure plantation. Tree growth was not adversely affected by crops. In fact, Astronium graveolens, Cedrela odorata and Terminalia amazonia showed significantly superior growth performance in association with both Zea mays and Cajanus cajan. When combined with the latter, the height increment of these tree species was up to four times that achieved in pure plantations. We conclude that intercropping can be an important silvicultural practice to facilitate forest restoration. Multi-purpose shrubby crop species with cropping cycles of more than 6 months are particularly beneficial, as they quickly shade out grasses, thus reducing the need for herbicides.

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Notes

  1. In the case of H. alchorneoides, mortality was so high that in some plots less than five of the original seedlings planted were still alive at the end of the observation period (Fig. 2 and OR 1, Table S3 and S4). Though the statistical evidence for treatment effects is, therefore, weak for this species, we have provided the observed values here, as very little empirical data are available on the growth performance of this valuable native tree species in Panama.

  2. More information on infestation rates of C. odorata with H. grandella in this trial can be found in Paul and Weber (2013).

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the German Research Foundation (DFG) (Project WE 2069/6-1), the Elite Network of Bavaria and the program “Equal Opportunity for Women in Research and Teaching” by the Technische Universität München for funding this work. This project was furthermore supported by the Forest Finance Group that provided land and labor as well as BARCA SA who provided logistic help. The authors furthermore wish to thank Donna Ankerst for support with statistical analysis and Jörg Prietzel, Peter Schad, Carlos Him and Manuela Theobald for help with analysis of soil samples and all students who helped with measurements. We are grateful to Thomas Knoke for continuous support and collaboration in this project. The authors also thank Laura Carlson for language editing. Finally we would like to express our gratitude to the Editors and two anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript.

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Paul, C., Weber, M. Effects of planting food crops on survival and early growth of timber trees in eastern Panama. New Forests 47, 53–72 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11056-015-9477-5

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