Competitive dynamics in two- and three-component intercrops.
Intercropping is receiving increasing attention because it offers potential advantages for resource utilization, decreased inputs and increased sustainability in crop production, but our understanding of the interactions among intercropped species is still very limited. We grew pea Pisum sativum, barley Hordeum vulgare and rape Brassica napus as sole crops and intercrops under field conditions using a replacement design. We collected total dry matter data from sequential harvests and fitted the data to a logistic growth model. At each harvest we estimated the relative Competitive Strength (CS) of the three crops by fitting the data to a simple interspecific competition model. The pea monocrop produced the largest amount of biomass from the middle to the end of the growth period, but pea was not dominant in intercrops. Fitting data to a logistic growth model emphasizes the importance of initial size differences for interactions among intercrops. Barley was the dominant component of the intercrops largely because of its initial size advantage. The competitive effect of barley on its companion crops, measured as CS, increased throughout most of the growing season. The performance of each crop species was very different when it grew with a second species rather than in monoculture, but addition of a third crop species had only minor effects on behaviour of the individual crops. Synthesis and applications. Including sequential harvests in experiments on intercropping can provide important information about how competitive hierarchies are established and change over time. Our results suggest that increased understanding of the role of asymmetric competition among species and the resulting advantages of early germination and seedling emergence would be valuable in designing intercrops. More focus on understanding the mechanisms that govern interactions between intercropped species is needed for designing optimized intercropping systems.