Improving intercropping: a synthesis of research in agronomy, plant physiology and ecology

RW Brooker, AE Bennett, W-F Cong, TJ Daniell, TS George, PD Hallet, C Hawes, PPM Iannetta, HG Jones, AJ Karley, L Li, BM McKenzie, RJ Pakeman, E Paterson, C Schob, J Shen, G Squire, CA Watson, C Zhang, F ZhangJ Zhang, PJ White

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

830 Citations (Scopus)
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Intercropping is a farming practice involving two or more crop species, or genotypes, growing together and coexisting for a time.Onthe fringes of modern intensive agriculture, intercropping is important in many subsistence or low-input/resource-limited agricultural systems. By allowing genuine yield gains without increased inputs, or greater stability of yield with decreased inputs, intercropping could be one route to delivering ‘sustainable intensification’. We discuss how recent knowledge from agronomy, plant physiology and ecology can be combined with the aim of improving intercropping systems. Recent advances in agronomy and plant physiology include better understanding of the mechanisms of interactions between crop genotypes and species – for example, enhanced resource availability through niche complementarity. Ecological advances include better understanding of the context-dependency of interactions, the mechanisms behind disease and pest avoidance, the links between above- and below-ground systems, and the role of microtopographic variation in coexistence. This improved understanding can guide approaches for improving intercropping systems, including breeding crops for intercropping. Although such advances can help to improve intercropping systems, we suggest that other topics also need addressing. These include better assessment of the wider benefits of intercropping in terms of multiple ecosystem services, collaboration with agricultural engineering, and more effective interdisciplinary research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107 - 117
Number of pages11
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number1
Publication statusFirst published - 2014

Bibliographical note



  • Agriculture
  • Ecosystem services
  • Intercropping
  • Organismal interactions
  • Resource use
  • Soil biodiversity
  • Sustainable intensification


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