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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

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

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


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 4C approach is both a pedagogical and scientific way to represent the combination of four joint effects of Competition, Complementarity, Cooperation, and Compensation as processes or effects occurring simultaneously and dynamically between species 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 4C approach allows to assess the performance of arable intercropping versus classical sole cropping through understanding the use of abiotic resources.


compensation; competition; complementarity; cooperation; interspecific interactions; land equivalent ratio; light; nutrients; species mixtures; water

Published in

Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering
2021, Volume: 8, number: 3, pages: 387-399