Agroforestry Systems

, Volume 43, Issue 1–3, pp 5–34

A review of belowground interactions in agroforestry, focussing on mechanisms and management options

  • G. Schroth

DOI: 10.1023/A:1026443018920

Cite this article as:
Schroth, G. Agroforestry Systems (1998) 43: 5. doi:10.1023/A:1026443018920


This review summarises current knowledge on root interactions in agroforestry systems, discussing cases from temperate and tropical ecosystems and drawing on experiences from natural plant communities where data from agroforestry systems are lacking. There is an inherent conflict in agroforestry between expected favourable effects of tree root systems, e.g. on soil fertility and nutrient cycling, and competition between tree and crop roots. Root management attempts to optimise root functions and to stimulate facilitative and complementary interactions. It makes use of the plasticity of root systems to respond to environmental factors, including other root systems, with altered growth and physiology. Root management tools include species selection, spacing, nutrient distribution, and shoot pruning, among others. Root distribution determines potential zones of root interactions in the soil, but are also a result of such interactions. Plants tend to avoid excessive root competition both at the root system level and at the single-root level by spatial segregation. As a consequence, associated plant species develop vertically stratified root systems under certain conditions, leading to complementarity in the use of soil resources. Parameters of root competitiveness, such as root length density, mycorrhization and flexibility in response to water and nutrient patches in the soil, have to be considered for predicting the outcome of interspecific root interactions. The patterns of root activity around individual plants differ between species; knowing these may help to avoid excessive competition and unproductive nutrient losses in agroforestry systems through suitable spacing and fertiliser placement. The possibility of alleviating root competition by supplying limiting growth factors is critically assessed. A wide range of physical, chemical and biological interactions occurs not only in spatial agroforestry, but also in rotational systems. In a final part, the reviewed information is applied to different types of agroforestry systems: associations of trees with annual crops; associations of trees with grasses or perennial fodder and cover crops; associations of different tree and shrub species; and improved fallows.

competition complementarity facilitation root activity root distribution root management 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. Schroth
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Applied BotanyUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.EMBRAPA Amaz nia OcidentalManaus-AMBrazil

Personalised recommendations