Intercrops improve the drought resistance of young rubber trees

  • Cathy Clermont-DauphinEmail author
  • Chaiyanam Dissataporn
  • Nopmanee Suvannang
  • Pirach Pongwichian
  • Jean-luc Maeght
  • Claude Hammecker
  • Christophe Jourdan
Research Article


The expansion of rubber cultivation into drought prone areas calls for innovative management to increase the drought resistance of the trees. The competition for water exerted by an intercrop in the upper soil layers will likely stimulate the growth of young rubber tree roots into deeper soil layers where water availability is more stable. This study examined the effects of a legume (Pueraria phaseoloides) and a grass (Vetiveria zizanoides) intercrop, on the fine root traits of young rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis Müll. Arg.) established along a toposequence covering a range of soil depths in northeast Thailand. Two plots with and without the intercrops were set up in a 3-year-old rubber plantation. Tree girth, mortality rate, nutrient content in the leaves, predawn leaf water potential, and soil water content profiles were monitored over four successive years. Fine root length density, specific root length, fine root biomass, and fine root diameter of the rubber trees were measured in the fourth year. In shallow soils, the trees with the legume intercrop had a higher growth rate, a higher leaf nutrient content, and a higher fine root length density in the deepest soil layers than the controls, supporting the hypothesis of an adaptive root response, increasing drought resistance. However, the trees with the grass intercrop did not show this effect. In deep soils, specific root length was highest without the intercrops, and the soil water profile and predawn leaf water potential suggested that trees with intercrops benefited from increased water extraction below 110 cm depth. We showed, for the first time, that rubber tree root traits can be manipulated through intercropping to improve drought resistance. However, our results suggest intercropping might not reduce risks of tree mortality caused by drought in the shallowest soils of the subhumid area of northeast Thailand.


Hevea brasiliensis Pueraria phaseoloides Vetiveria zizanoides Intercrop FRLD SRL Predawn leaf water potential Soil water profile Soil depth Agroforestry Northeast Thailand 



We would like to thank many people for their contribution to the field data collection and processing, in particular, Vincent Cheylan (IRD), Weerawut Yotjamrut, and Nitjaporn Koonklang (LDD).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Barraclough P (1984) The growth and activity of winter wheat roots in the field: root growth of high-yielding crops in relation to shoot growth. J Agric Sci 103(2):439–442. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Broughton WJ (1977) Effects of various covers on soil fertility under Hevea brasiliensis and on growth of the tree. Agro-Ecosystems 3:147–170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown SC, Gregory PJ, Cooper PJM, Keatinge JDH (1989) Root and shoot growth and water use of chickpea (Cicer arietinum) grown in dryland conditions: effect of sowing date and genotype. J Agric Sci (Camb) 113:41–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Clermont-Dauphin C, Suvannang N, Pongwichian P, Cheylan V, Hammecker C, Harmmand JM (2016) Dinitrogen fixation by the legume cover crop Pueraria phaseoloides and transfer of fixed N to Hevea brasiliensis—impact on tree growth and vulnerability to drought. Agric Ecosyst Environ 217:79–88. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Crook MJ, Ennos AR (1998) The increase in anchorage with tree size of the tropical tap rooted tree Mallotus wrayi, King (Euphorbiaceae). Ann Bot 82:291–296. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Delabarre M (1998) Rapport final: fonctionnement des cultures associées à base d’hévéa, Troisième programme STD, Numéro de contrat TS3-CT92-148, Cirad, pp 1992–1995Google Scholar
  7. Devakumar AS, Prakash PG, Sathik MBM, Jacob J (1999) Drought alters the canopy architecture and micro-climate of Hevea brasiliensis trees. Trees 13:161–167. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Espeleta JF, Donovan LA (2002) Fine root demography and morphology in response to soil resources availability among xeric and mesic sandhill tree species. Funct Ecol 16:113–121. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford HW (1952) The distribution of feeder roots of orange and grapefruit trees on rough lemon rootstock. Citrus Mag 14:22–23Google Scholar
  10. Forey O, Temani F, Wery J et al (2017) Effect of combined deficit irrigation and grass competition at plantation on peach tree root distribution. Eur J Agron 91:16–24. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Hendrick RL, Pregitzer KS (1993) The dynamics of fine root length, biomass, and nitrogen content in two northern hardwood ecosystems. Can J For Res 23:2507–2520. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jessy MD, Prasannakumari P, Nair RB, Vijayakumar KR, Nair NU (2010) Influence of soil moisture and nutrient status on fine root dynamics of rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis). J Plant Crop 38:92–96Google Scholar
  13. Jessy MD, Prasannakumari P, Abraham J (2013) Carbon and nutrient cycling through fine roots in rubber (Hevea Brasiliensis) plantations in India. Exp Agric 49(4):556–573. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kaye JP, Quemada M (2017) Using cover crops to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A review. Agron Sustain Dev 37:4. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. King JA, Gay A, Sylvester-Bradley R, Bingham I, Foulkes M, Gregory P, Robinson D (2003) Modelling cereal root systems for water and nitrogen capture: towards an economic optimum. Ann Bot 91:383–390. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  16. Lemaire G, Gastal F (1997) N Uptake and distribution in plant canopies. Diagnosis of the nitrogen status in crops. In: G. Lemaire (ed) Springler Verlag, New-York, pp 3–44Google Scholar
  17. Maeght JL, Gonkhamdee S, Clément C, Isarangkool Na Ayutthaya S, Stokes A, Pierret A (2015) Seasonal patterns of fine root production and turnover in a mature rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis Müll. Arg.) stand-differentiation with soil depth and implications for soil carbon stocks. Front Plant Sci 6:1022. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Olsthoorn AFM, Keltjens WG, Van Baren B, Hopman MCG (1991) Influence of ammonium on fine root development and rhizosphere pH of Douglas-fir seedlings in sand. Plant Soil 133(1):75–81. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ostonen I, Püttsepp Ü, Biel C, Alberton O, Bakker MR, Lõhmus K, Majdi H, Metcalfe D, Olsthoorn AFM, Pronk A, Vanguelova E, Weih M, Brunner I (2007) Plant Biosystems 141 (3):426–442Google Scholar
  20. Persson HA (1983) The distribution and productivity of fine roots in boreal forests. Plant Soil 71:87–10. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pierret A, Gonkhamdee S, Jourdan C, Maeght JL (2013) IJ_Rhizo: an open-source software to measure scanned images of root samples. Plant Soil 373:531–539. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Poorter H, Niklas KJ, Reich PB, Oleksyn J, Poot P, Mommer L (2012) Biomass allocation to leaves, stems and roots: meta-analyses of interspecific variation and environmental control. New Phytol 193:30–50. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Pregitzer KS, DeForest JL, Burton AJ, Allen MF, Ruess RW, Hendrick RL (2002) Fine root architecture of nine North American trees. Ecol Monogr 72:293–309.[0293:FRAONN]2.0.CO;2Google Scholar
  24. Roumet C, Birouste M, Picon-Cochard C, Ghestem M, Osman N, Vrignon-Brenas S, Kf C, Stokes A (2016) Root structure–function relationships in 74 species: evidence of a root economics spectrum related to carbon economy. New Phytol 210(3):815–826. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Schenk HJ, Jackson RB (2002) Rooting depths, lateral root spreads and below-ground/above-ground allometries of plants in water-limited ecosystems. J Ecol 90:480–494. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schroth G (1999) A review of belowground interactions in agroforestry, focussing on mechanisms and management options. Agrofor Syst 43:5–34. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Soong NK (1976) Feeder root development of Hevea brasiliensis in relation to clones and environment. J Rubber Res Inst Malays 24:283–298Google Scholar
  28. Verzeaux J, Hirel B, Dubois F et al (2017) Agricultural practices to improve nitrogen use efficiency through the use of arbuscular mycorrhizae: Basic and agronomic aspects. Plant Sci 26:48–56. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Wang BJ, Zhang W, Ahanbieke P, Gan YW, Xu WL, Li LH, Christie P, Li L (2014) Interspecific interactions alter root length density, root diameter and specific root length in jujube/wheat agroforestry systems. Agrofor Syst 88:835–850. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wang G, Liu F, Xue S (2017) Nitrogen addition enhanced water uptake by affecting fine root morphology and coarse root anatomy of Chinese pine seedlings. Plant Soil 418:177–189. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. White JP, George TS, Gregory PJ, Bengough AG, Hallet PD, McKenzie BM (2013) Matching roots to their environment. Ann Bot 112:207–222. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cathy Clermont-Dauphin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author return OK on get
  • Chaiyanam Dissataporn
    • 2
  • Nopmanee Suvannang
    • 2
  • Pirach Pongwichian
    • 2
  • Jean-luc Maeght
    • 3
  • Claude Hammecker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christophe Jourdan
    • 1
  1. 1.UMR 210 Eco&Sols (IRD, INRA, CIRAD, Supagro Montpellier, Univ. Montpellier)MontpellierFrance
  2. 2.Land Development DepartmentMinistry of Agriculture and Co-OperativeBangkokThailand
  3. 3.UMR 242 Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences -Paris (IRD,UPCM, CNRS, INRA,Univ. Paris-Diderot, UPEC)Soils and Fertilisers Research InstituteHanoiVietnam

Personalised recommendations