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Effects of shade tree cover and diversity on root system structure and dynamics in cacao agroforests: The role of root competition and space partitioning

Rajab, YasminAbou, Hölscher, Dirk, Leuschner, Christoph, Barus, Henry, Tjoa, Aiyen, Hertel, Dietrich
Plant and soil 2018 v.422 no.1-2 pp. 349-369
Gliricidia sepium, Theobroma cacao, agroforestry, biomass, fine roots, interspecific competition, legumes, root systems, soil depth, soil water, spatial distribution, species diversity, stable isotopes, Indonesia
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: To increase yield, cacao is planted increasingly in unshaded monocultures, replacing a more traditional cultivation under shade. We investigated how shade tree cover and species diversity affect the root system and its dynamics. METHODS: In a replicated study in Sulawesi (Indonesia), we studied the fine and coarse root system down to 3 m soil depth in three modern and more traditional cacao cultivation systems: unshaded cacao monoculture (Cacao-mono), cacao under either the legume Gliricidia sepium (Cacao-Gliricidia), or a diverse (> 6 species) shade tree cover (Cacao-multi). We analysed the vertical distribution of fine, large and coarse roots as well as fine root production, turnover and morphology on the species level. RESULTS: Stand-level fine root biomass showed a doubling with increasing shade tree cover (from 206 to 432 g m⁻²), but a tendency for a decrease in cacao fine root biomass. The presence of Gliricidia roots seemed to shift the cacao fine roots to a more shallow distribution, while the presence of shade tree roots in the Cacao-multi systems caused a biomass reduction and relative downward shift of the cacao roots. The turnover of cacao fine roots was much higher in the Cacao-multi stands than in the other two cultivation systems, although stand-level root production remained unchanged across the three systems. According to the stable isotope signature, Gliricidia extracted water from deeper soil layers than cacao, while no soil water partitioning was observed in the Cacao-multi stands. CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that the cacao trees altered their fine root distribution patterns in response to root competition. Both interspecific competition and root system segregation seem to play an important role in cacao agroforests with different shade tree cover.