The 4C approach as a way to understand species interactions determining intercropping productivity

Eric Justes*, Laurent Bedoussac, Christos Dordas, Ela Frak, Gaetan Louarn, Simon Boudsocq, Etienne-Pascal Journet, Anastasios Lithourgidis, Chrysanthi Pankou, Chaochun Zhang, Georg Carlsson, Erik S Jensen, CA Watson, Long Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)
277 Downloads (Pure)


Modern agriculture needs to develop transition pathways toward agroecological, resilient and sustainable farming systems. One key pathway for such agroecological intensification is the diversification of cropping systems using intercropping and notably cereal-grain legume mixtures. Such mixtures or intercrops have the potential to increase and stabilize yields and improve cereal grain protein concentration in comparison to sole crops. Species mixtures are complex and the 4 C approach is both a pedagogical and scientific way to represent the combination of 4 joint effects of Competition, Complementarity, Cooperation, and Compensation occurring simultaneously and dynamically between species interactions over the whole cropping cycle. Competition is when plants have fairly similar requirements for abiotic resources in space and time, the result of all processes that occur when one species has a greater ability to use limiting resources (e.g., nutrients, water, space, light) than others. Complementarity is when plants grown together have different requirements for abiotic resources in space, time or form. Cooperation is when the modification of the environment by one species is beneficial to the other(s). Compensation is when the failure of one species is compensated by the other(s) because they differ in their sensitivity to abiotic stress. The 4 C approach allows to assess the performance of arable intercropping versus classical sole cropping through understanding the use of abiotic resources.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jul 2021
Publication statusFirst published - 30 Jul 2021


  • Compensation
  • Competition
  • Complementarity
  • Cooperation
  • Interspecific interactions
  • Land equivalent ratio
  • Light
  • Nutrients
  • Species mixtures
  • Water


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