New Forests

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 53–72 | Cite as

Effects of planting food crops on survival and early growth of timber trees in eastern Panama



Restoration of degraded pasture lands in the tropics through afforestation is widely supported. The greatest obstacle to afforestation, however, is the long delay before initial financial returns from wood harvesting are realized. Interplanting young trees with food or energy crops has been proposed as a strategy to help overcome this obstacle. We investigated the impact of this practice on the survival and growth performance of young tropical tree seedlings in Panama. Five native timber tree species and the exotic species Tectona grandis were interplanted with four different crop rotations and monitored over 2 years. Survival of young tree seedlings was up to eight times higher when planted in association with Manihot esculenta. Only during the first 3 months after maize sowing was a significant negative effect of intercropping on tree seedling survival found. Here, survival rate of tree seedlings was up to four times lower than in the pure plantation. Tree growth was not adversely affected by crops. In fact, Astronium graveolens, Cedrela odorata and Terminalia amazonia showed significantly superior growth performance in association with both Zea mays and Cajanus cajan. When combined with the latter, the height increment of these tree species was up to four times that achieved in pure plantations. We conclude that intercropping can be an important silvicultural practice to facilitate forest restoration. Multi-purpose shrubby crop species with cropping cycles of more than 6 months are particularly beneficial, as they quickly shade out grasses, thus reducing the need for herbicides.


Taungya Intercropping Afforestation Panama Tree survival Restoration 



The authors are grateful to the German Research Foundation (DFG) (Project WE 2069/6-1), the Elite Network of Bavaria and the program “Equal Opportunity for Women in Research and Teaching” by the Technische Universität München for funding this work. This project was furthermore supported by the Forest Finance Group that provided land and labor as well as BARCA SA who provided logistic help. The authors furthermore wish to thank Donna Ankerst for support with statistical analysis and Jörg Prietzel, Peter Schad, Carlos Him and Manuela Theobald for help with analysis of soil samples and all students who helped with measurements. We are grateful to Thomas Knoke for continuous support and collaboration in this project. The authors also thank Laura Carlson for language editing. Finally we would like to express our gratitude to the Editors and two anonymous referees for their valuable suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Conflict of interest

None declared.

Supplementary material

11056_2015_9477_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (541 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 540 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Silviculture, TUM School of Life Sciences WeihenstephanTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Forest Management, TUM School of Life Sciences WeihenstephanTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany

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