Estimating the contribution of plant traits to light partitioning in simultaneous maize/soybean intercropping

Li, Shuangwei; Werf, Wopke Van Der; Zhu, Junqi; Guo, Yan; Li, Baoguo; Ma, Yuntao; Evers, Jochem B.


Spatial configuration and plant phenotypic plasticity contribute to increased light capture in relay intercropping, but there is little information on whether these factors also increase light capture in simultaneous intercropping. We developed and validated a three-dimensional functional–structural plant model to simulate light capture in maize and soybean sole crops and intercrop scenarios, using species traits observed in sole crops and intercrops. The intercrop maize phenotype had 2% greater light capture than the sole crop phenotype in a pure stand. The soybean intercrop phenotype had 5–10% lower light capture than the sole crop phenotype in a pure stand. The intercrop configuration increased the light capture of maize by 29% and reduced the light capture of soybean by 42%, compared with the light capture expected from sole crops. However, intercrop configuration only marginally affected total light capture by the intercrop system (+1%). Testing of individual soybean plant traits revealed that plasticity in leaf dimensions was the main reason for differences in light capture by soybean in simulated sole crops and intercrops. The results of this study illustrate a major shift of light capture from shorter species (soybean) to the taller component (maize) in a simultaneous strip intercrop. Plastic plant traits modulate this overall effect, but only marginally.