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Root system dynamics, productivity and N use were studied in inter- and sole crops of field pea (Pisum sativum L.) and spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) on a temperate sandy loam. A P-32 tracer placed at a depth of 12.5, 37.5, 62.5 or 87.5 cm was employed to determine root system dynamics by sampling crop leaves at 0, 15, 30 and 45 cm lateral distance. N-15 addition was used to estimate N-2 fixation by pea, using sole cropped barley as reference crop. The Land Equivalent Ratio (LER), which is defined as the relative land area under sole crops that is required to produce the yields achieved in intercropping, were used to compare the crop growth in intercrops relative to the respective sole crops.

The P-32 appearance in leaves revealed that the barley root system grows faster than that of pea. P uptake by the barley root system during early growth stages was approximately 10 days ahead of that of the pea root system in root depth and lateral root distribution. More than 90% of the P uptake by the pea root system was confined to the top 12.5 cm of soil, whereas barley had about 25-30% of tracer P uptake in the 12.5 - 62.5 cm soil layer. Judging from this P uptake, intercropping caused the barley root system to grow deeper and faster lateral root development of both species was observed. Barley accumulated similar amounts of aboveground N when grown as inter- and sole crop, whereas the total aboveground N acquired by pea in the intercrop was only 16% of that acquired in the pea sole crop. The percentage of total aboveground N derived from N-2 fixation in sole cropped pea increased from 40% to 80% during the growth period, whereas it was almost constant at 85% in intercropped pea. The total amounts of N-2 fixed were 95 and 15 kg N ha(-1) in sole cropped and intercropped pea, respectively. Barley was the dominant component of the pea-barley intercrop, obtaining 90% of its sole crop yield, while pea produced only 15% of the grains of a sole crop pea. Intercropping of pea and barley improved the utilization of plant growth resources (LER > 1) as compared to sole crops. Root system distribution in time and space can partly explain interspecific competition. The P-32 methodology proved to be a valuable tool for determining root dynamics in intercropping systems.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Publication date2001
Volume236
Issue1
Pages63-74
ISSN0032-079X
DOIs
StatePublished
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 61
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