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Effect of plant diversity on the production of multi-species cropping systems, case of agroforestry systems in Talamanca, Costa Rica

Abstract : Adding plant diversity is increasingly presented as a mean to improve the sustainability of agrosystems. However, there is still a lack of knowledge on how plant functional diversity alters processes that support production. Because they cover a broad range of plant diversity, agroforestry systems in the tropics are a good case study to better understand the diversity-production relation. Agroforestry systems in the Talamanca region in Costa Rica are particularly interesting because among the cultivated plants they encompass, banana and cacao are two cash crops of major importance and for which production can easily be quantified and analyzed. Another specificity of these systems is that their vertical and horizontal organization is particularly diverse. Understanding how plant diversity and its organization alter the performances of these complex systems is particularly challenging and requires developing new approaches. The objectives of this thesis were to address the following questions: i) Which factors affect the relationship between plant diversity and productivity? ii) How plant diversity influences the global productivity of agroforestry systems? and iii) How the spatial structure of the plant community affects yields? First, a meta-analysis was carried out to address the diversity-production issue among a very broad range of systems world-wide. This analysis focused on how latitude, climate, and canopy structure modify the effect of plant richness on productivity of agricultural and natural ecosystems. It showed that the gain per unit of diversity added decreased as plant richness increased. Our findings also showed that the response of productivity to plant richness largely depends on the type of plants in the community, especially if the community includes trees. Then, we extensively studied the diversity and the productivity of 180 plots (100 m² each) located within 20 fields in the Talamanca region. A global evaluation of the productivity of these systems was possible with the estimation of the production of each plant during 1 year. This production was converted into income according to local market prices. While we observed a global positive effect of plant diversity on global income, this effect was contrasted according to the functional group considered (banana, cacao, other fruits, timber, and firewood). When considering the functional group separately, there was a positive effect of plant diversity for higher strata groups (other fruits, firewood, and timber) and a negative effect for lower strata groups (banana and cacao). This suggested that complementarity between plants was stronger than competition for those plants occupying the higher strata of the canopy but that competition was stronger than complementarity for plants occupying the lower strata of the canopy. The second part of the analysis of the Talamanca fields dataset focused on the effect of neighbouring plants on the production of banana and cacao plants. An individual-based analysis was developed to determine whether the number of neighbouring plants of a given functional groups explained the potential yield of each banana or cacao plant. We found that the distance at which other plants alters the yield of banana or cacao plants was greater for larger functional groups (fruit or wood trees) than for smaller ones (cacao trees or banana plants). Interestingly, higher strata trees had a smaller effect than lower strata trees, suggesting that moderate densities of tall trees could be compatible with high banana and cacao production. These findings were discussed in terms of complementary and competition with respect to the availability of light at higher and lower strata of the canopy. On an applied perspective, our results suggest that productivity could be maximized by a reasonably number of plant species, and then we proposed new direction to organize fields in order to maximize the production of cash crops while providing supplementary income for farmers and ecosystem services.
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Ricardo Salazar-Diaz. Effect of plant diversity on the production of multi-species cropping systems, case of agroforestry systems in Talamanca, Costa Rica. Agronomy. Université de Montpellier, 2017. English. ⟨tel-01690215⟩

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