A framework for designing multi-functional cover crops
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Cover crops are sown to provide a number of ecosystem services including nutrient management, mitigation of diffuse pollution, improving soil structure and organic matter content, weed suppression, nitrogen fixation and provision of resources for biodiversity. Although the decision to sow a cover crop may be driven by a desire to achieve just one of these objectives, the diversity of cover crops species and mixtures available means that there is potential to combine a number of ecosystem services within the same crop and growing season. Designing multi-functional cover crops would potentially help to reconcile the often conflicting agronomic and environmental agendas and contribute to the optimal use of land. We present a framework for integrating multiple ecosystem services delivered by cover crops that aims to design a mixture of species with complementary growth habit and functionality. The optimal number and identity of species will depend on the services included in the analysis, the functional space represented by the available species pool and the community dynamics of the crop in terms of dominance and co-existence. Experience from a project that applied the framework to fertility building leys in organic systems demonstrated its potential and emphasised the importance of the initial choice of species to include in the analysis.
Other Titles/Title of Conference
Getting the most out of cover crops, Marston, UK
Association of Applied Biologists
Journal Title/Title of Proceedings
Aspects of Applied Biology: Getting the most out of cover crops