Plant and Soil

, Volume 339, Issue 1–2, pp 147–161 | Cite as

Overyielding and interspecific interactions mediated by nitrogen fertilization in strip intercropping of maize with faba bean, wheat and barley

  • Qiu-Zhu Li
  • Jian-Hao Sun
  • Xiao-Jing Wei
  • Peter Christie
  • Fu-Suo Zhang
  • Long Li
Regular Article


Interspecific interactions and soil nitrogen supply levels affect intercropping productivity. We hypothesized that interspecific competition can be alleviated by increasing N application rate and yield advantage can be obtained in competitive systems. A field experiment was conducted in Wuwei, Gansu province in 2007 and 2008 to study intercropping of faba bean/maize, wheat/maize, barley/maize and the corresponding monocultures of faba bean (Vicia faba L.), wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) and maize (Zea mays L.) with N application rates of 0, 75, 150, 225 and 300 kg N ha−1. Total land equivalent ratios (TLER) were 1.22 for faba bean/maize, 1.16 for wheat/maize, and 1.13 for barley/maize intercropping over the 2-year study period. Maize was overyielding when intercropped with faba bean, but underyielding when intercropped with wheat or barley according to partial land equivalent ratios (PLER) based on grain yields of individual crops in intercropping and sole cropping. There was an interspecific facilitation between intercropped faba bean and maize, and interspecific competition between maize and either wheat or barley. The underyielding of maize was higher when intercropped with barley than with wheat. Fertilizer N alleviated competitive interactions in intercrops with adequate fertilizer N at 225 kg ha−1. Yield advantage of intercropping can be acquired with adequate nitrogen supply, even in an intensive competitive system such as barley/maize intercropping. This is important when using intercropping to develop intensive farming systems with high inputs and high outputs.


Cereal/cereal intercropping Interspecific competition LER N application rate N acquisition 



This study was supported financially by the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program) (Project no 2011CB100405) and by Specialized Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education (20080019034). Dr. Yuying Li, Dr. Changbing Yu, Ms. Wei Chen, Mr. Xingguo Bao and colleagues at Baiyun Experimental Station are very gratefully acknowledged for assistance with field experiments. We also thank Dr. Hansheng Hu for valuable suggestions on an early version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qiu-Zhu Li
    • 1
  • Jian-Hao Sun
    • 2
  • Xiao-Jing Wei
    • 1
  • Peter Christie
    • 1
    • 3
  • Fu-Suo Zhang
    • 1
  • Long Li
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Plant and Soil Interactions, Ministry of Education, College of Resources and Environmental ScienceChina Agricultural UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Institute of Soils, Fertilizers and Water-Saving AgricultureGansu Academy of Agricultural SciencesLanzhouChina
  3. 3.Agri-Environment BranchAgri-Food and Biosciences InstituteBelfastUK

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