Increasing crop rotational diversity can enhance cereal yields
Diversifying agriculture by rotating a greater number of crop species in sequence is a promising practice to reduce negative impacts of crop production on the environment and maintain yields. However, it is unclear to what extent cereal yields change with crop rotation diversity and external nitrogen fertilization level over time, and which functional groups of crops provide the most yield benefit. Here, using grain yield data of small grain cereals and maize from 32 long-term (10–63 years) experiments across Europe and North America, we show that crop rotational diversity, measured as crop species diversity and functional richness, enhanced grain yields. This yield benefit increased over time. Only the yields of winter-sown small grain cereals showed a decline at the highest level of species diversity. Diversification was beneficial to all cereals with a low external nitrogen input, particularly maize, enabling a lower dependence on nitrogen fertilisers and ultimately reducing greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen pollution. The results suggest that increasing crop functional richness rather than species diversity can be a strategy for supporting grain yields across many environments.
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Communications Earth & Environment, 2023, available online at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43247-023-00746-0
Smith, M.E., Vico, G., Costa, A. et al. Increasing crop rotational diversity can enhance cereal yields. Commun Earth Environ 4, 89 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-023-00746-0