Intercropping enhances microbial community diversity and ecosystem functioning in maize fields

Front Microbiol. 2023 Jan 4;13:1084452. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2022.1084452. eCollection 2022.


BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Intercropping, a widely used planting pattern, could affect soil physicochemical properties, microbial community diversity, and further crop yields. However, its impacts on soil microbial diversity and ecosystem functioning and further soil sustainability are poorly understood.

METHODS: We conducted field experiments by intercropping maize with four important crops (i.e., sesame, peanut, soybean, and sweet potato), and examined soil microbial community diversity and ecosystem functioning such as microbial biomass and enzyme activities under monocropping and intercropping. We quantified their intercropping effects on microbial diversity and ecosystem functions with effect size metric Cohen d by comparing to the monocropping of maize.

RESULTS: We found that the four intercropping systems significantly increased soil aggregates in respective of the 2-0.25 mm grain size. Intercropping consistently elevated ecosystem functioning, such as soil enzyme activities of urease, phosphatase, and catalase, soil microbial biomass carbon and soil microbial biomass nitrogen. The Cohen d of bacterial richness also increased from 0.39 to 2.36, the latter of which was significant for maize/peanut intercropping. Notably, these ecosystem functions were strongly associated with the diversity of bacteria and fungi and the relative abundance of their ecological clusters identified with network analysis.

CONCLUSION: Together, our findings indicate that intercropping generally affected soil physicochemical properties, ecosystem functions, and promoted microbial community diversity. More importantly, our findings highlight the important roles of microbial diversity of ecological clusters (that is, network modules) in maintaining ecosystem functioning after intercropping. These results will help to better understand the microbial diversity and ecosystem function in intercropping systems and guide agricultural practice.

PMID:36687629 | PMC:PMC9846038 | DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2022.1084452


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