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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Undersowing oats with clovers supports pollinators and suppresses arable weeds without reducing yields

Boetzl, Fabian A.; Douhan Sundahl, Anna; Friberg, Hanna; Viketoft, Maria; Bergkvist, Goran; Lundin, Ola

Abstract

Sustainable food production requires agriculture to conserve biodiversity and facilitate ecosystem services to maintain productivity levels while reducing inputs detrimental to ecosystem functioning. Increasing within-field vegetation diversity by legume intercropping seems promising to facilitate cropping system multi-functionality. Effects of intercropping with legumes on biodiversity-mediated ecosystem services such as pollination or natural pest control are, however, not sufficiently understood. Using 26 observation plots in a paired field design, we studied the effects of undersowing oats with a mixture of three annual clovers across different aspects of cropping system multi-functionality. We investigated 16 below- and above-ground ecosystem service indicators related to soil mineral nitrogen, arable weed control, pollination, disease and pest pressures, natural pest control and crop yield. We found lower arable weed cover, higher flower cover and pollinator densities as well as decreased root-feeding nematode densities in intercropped observation plots compared with the non-intercropped controls. However, intercropping decreased spider activity densities and oat yield nitrogen content. Root diseases, pest damages, natural pest control and crop yield were not affected by intercropping. The biomass of undersown clovers was positively related with the differences in flower cover and pollinator densities, and negatively related with the differences in arable weed cover between the intercropped and the control treatment. Synthesis and applications: We demonstrate that undersowing annual clovers suppresses arable weeds and simultaneously support pollinators without reducing crop yields or taking land out of arable production. Undersown plant mixtures should, however, be tailored to support a wider spectrum of pollinators and benefit natural pest control to support a higher level of overall cropping system multi-functionality.

Keywords

bumblebees; carabid beetles; cereals; ecological intensification; ecosystem services; ground-dwelling predators; intercropping; nematodes

Published in

Journal of Applied Ecology
2023, Volume: 60, number: 4, pages: 614-623
Publisher: WILEY