Crop mixtures: does niche complementarity hold for belowground resources? An experimental test using rice genotypic pairs
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Genotypic mixtures have been receiving a growing interest as genetic diversity could increase crop productivity. Resource-use complementarity is an expected key underlying mechanism, provided that varieties in the mixture differ in resource-related traits, notably root traits. We aimed at examining how trait differences and resource-use complementarity drive biomass production of genotypic mixtures.
Four rice (Oryza sativa) genotypes including two Near-Isogenic Lines only differing in root depth were grown in monoculture and in two-way mixtures in pots under two levels of phosphorus supply. We analyzed the relative difference between mixture biomass and the best monoculture biomass in relation to between-genotype phenotypic distance on ten resource-related traits.
Mixtures never outperformed the best monoculture. However, relative mixture productivity increased with increasing between-genotype distance in biovolume, specific leaf area and top soil root biomass. This was mainly driven by a “selection effect”: trait differences led to competitive ability differences and the dominant genotypes tended to gain more in mixture than the subdominant genotypes lost compared to monoculture.
Rather than trying to minimize competition through resource-use complementarity, we argue that promoting interactions between genotypes that have different competitive abilities may be a more promising approach to design productive crop mixtures.
KeywordsCrop mixture Functional diversity Near-isogenic lines Resource-use complementarity Rice Root traits Selection effect
This work was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant Project “Ecophysiological and biophysical constraints on domestication in crop plants” (Grant ERC-StG-2014-639706-CONSTRAINTS). We thank Clemence Darley for her dedicated technical help and the ‘Terrain d’expériences’ and ‘PACE’ platforms at CEFE (technical facilities of the Labex Centre Méditerranéen de l’Environnement et de la Biodiversite, CEMEB) for providing all the facilities and technical support.
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