Do polycultures promote win-wins or trade-offs in agricultural ecosystem services? A meta-analysis.

Published online
14 Jan 2015
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Iverson, A. L. & Marín, L. E. & Ennis, K. K. & Gonthier, D. J. & Connor-Barrie, B. T. & Remfert, J. L. & Cardinale, B. J. & Perfecto, I.
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Agriculture comprises the largest global land use, makes it a leading cause of habitat loss. It is therefore critical to identify how to best construct agricultural systems that can simultaneously provide food and other ecosystem services. This challenge requires that we determine how to maximize win-win relationships and minimize trade-offs between services. Through meta-analysis, we tested whether within-field crop diversification (polyculture) can lead to win-win relationships between two ecosystem services: yield of a focal crop species and biocontrol of crop pests. We selected only studies that recorded both services (N=26 studies; 301 observations), allowing us to better determine the underlying mechanisms of our principal findings. We calculated log-response ratios for both ecosystem services in mono- and polycultures. We found win-win relationships between per-plant yield of the primary crop and biocontrol in polyculture systems that minimized intraspecific competition via substitutive planting. Additionally, we found beneficial effects on biocontrol with no difference in per-unit area yield of the primary crop in polyculture fields at high cropping densities (additive planting) where legumes were used as the secondary crop. These results suggest that there is a strong potential for win-win relationships between biocontrol and per-unit area yield under certain scenarios. Our findings were consistent across geographical regions and by type of primary crop. We did not find evidence that biocontrol had an effect on yield, but rather, both were independently affected by polycultural cropping. Synthesis and applications. We show that well-designed polycultures can produce win-win outcomes between per-plant, and potentially per-unit area, primary crop yield and biocontrol. Biocontrol services are consistently enhanced in polycultures, so polyculture management that focuses on yield optimization is likely to be the best strategy for maximizing both services. In doing so, we suggest that practitioners utilize polycultures that decrease plant-plant competition through a substitution of relatively large quantities of the primary crop for compatibly harvestable secondary crops. Additionally, if planting at high cropping densities, it is important that legumes be the secondary crop.

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