Ecology of tree intercropping systems in the North temperate region: Experiences from southern Ontario, Canada

Abstract

Agroforestry practices in northern latitudes, although less diverse than those in warmer regions, have unique advantages over conventional land-use systems in the region in terms of water-quality enhancement, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation. Tree intercropping, especially, is a potentially promising agroforestry option in the region. Understanding the ecological interactions between trees and crops in such intercropped systems provides the basis for designing efficient systems with potential for wider applicability. With this objective, the experience from several years of research on this aspect at the University of Guelph, in southern Ontario, Canada are presented. Yields of C3 crops intercropped with trees, as well as growth of trees, did not differ from those in corresponding sole-stand (conventional) systems of crops and trees. But, soil organic carbon content and bird and insect diversity increased in the intercropped area. The abundance and distribution of earthworms were higher closer to the tree rows indicating improved soil health. The C sequestration potential in fast-growing tree (hybrid-poplar)-based intercropping systems was four times more than that reported for conventional agricultural fields in the region. Because of reduced fertilizer use and more efficient N-cycling, the tree-intercropping systems could also lead to the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural fields by about 0.7 kg ha−1 yr−1. Marginal or degraded land that is suitable for agroforestry is estimated to be 57 million ha in Canada. Tree/crop intercropping is one agroforestry system that shows great potential for this region. We suggest that this land-management option can be placed above conventional agriculture in terms of long term-productivity and sustainability.

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Thevathasan, N., Gordon, A. Ecology of tree intercropping systems in the North temperate region: Experiences from southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems 61, 257–268 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1023/B:AGFO.0000029003.00933.6d

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  • Agroecosystems
  • Biodiversity
  • Biophysical interactions
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Intercropping systems
  • Sustainable agriculture