Designing mixtures of varieties for multifunctional agriculture with the help of ecology. A review

  • Sébastien Barot
  • Vincent Allard
  • Amélie Cantarel
  • Jérôme Enjalbert
  • Arnaud Gauffreteau
  • Isabelle Goldringer
  • Jean-Christophe Lata
  • Xavier Le Roux
  • Audrey Niboyet
  • Emanuelle Porcher
Review Article


The study of natural ecosystems and experiments using mixtures of plant species demonstrates that both species and genetic diversity generally promote ecosystem functioning. Therefore, mixing crop varieties is a promising alternative practice to transform modern high-input agriculture that is associated with a drastic reduction of within-field crop genetic diversity and is widely recognized as unsustainable. Here, we review the effects of mixtures of varieties on ecosystem functioning, and their underlying ecological mechanisms, as studied in ecology and agronomy, and outline how this knowledge can help designing more efficient mixtures. We recommend the development of two complementary strategies to optimize variety mixtures by fostering the ecological mechanisms leading to a positive relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and its stability through time, i.e., sampling and complementarity effects. (1) In the “trait-blind” approach, the design of high-performance mixtures is based on estimations of the mixing abilities of varieties. While this approach is operational because it does not require detailed trait knowledge, it relies on heavy experimental designs to evaluate mixing ability. (2) The trait-based approach is particularly efficient to design mixtures of varieties to provide particular baskets of services but requires building databases of traits for crop varieties and documenting the relations between traits and services. The performance of mixtures requires eventually to be evaluated in real economic, social, and agronomic contexts. We conclude that the need of a multifunctional low-input agriculture strongly increases the attractiveness of mixtures but that new breeding approaches are required to create varieties with higher mixing abilities, to foster complementarity and selection effects through an increase in the variance of relevant traits and to explore new combinations of trait values.


Biodiversity Mixtures of varieties Sampling effect Complementarity effect Crop breeding Crop traits Multifunctional agriculture Mixing ability 



The authors acknowledge support from the ANR through the project Wheatamix and from the INRA meta-programme EcoServ through the project SolFaMi. We thank the anonymous reviewers who have helped to improve the article.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sébastien Barot
    • 1
  • Vincent Allard
    • 2
  • Amélie Cantarel
    • 3
  • Jérôme Enjalbert
    • 4
  • Arnaud Gauffreteau
    • 5
  • Isabelle Goldringer
    • 4
  • Jean-Christophe Lata
    • 1
    • 6
  • Xavier Le Roux
    • 3
  • Audrey Niboyet
    • 1
  • Emanuelle Porcher
    • 7
  1. 1.IEES-P (IRD, CNRS, UPEC)ParisFrance
  2. 2.INRA, UMR 1095 Génétique, Diversité et Ecophysiologie des CéréalesClermont-FerrandFrance
  3. 3.UMR CNRS 5557, UMR 1418 INRA, Ecologie MicrobienneUniversité Lyon1, Université de LyonVilleurbanneFrance
  4. 4.UMR 0320 (INRA–CNRS–UPS) Génétique VégétaleGif-sur-YvetteFrance
  5. 5.INRA, UMR 211 Agronomie, AgroParisTechUniversité Paris-SaclayThiverval-GrignonFrance
  6. 6.Department of Geoecology and Geochemistry, Institute of Natural ResourcesTomsk Polytechnic UniversityTomskRussia
  7. 7.UMR 7204, Centre d’Ecologie et des Sciences de la ConservationSorbonne Universités-MNHN-CNRS-UPMC, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelleParisFrance

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