Interspecific interactions between crops influence soil functional groups and networks in a maize/soybean intercropping system

Guizong Zhang, Hao Yang, Weiping Zhang, T. Martijn Bezemer, Wenju Liang* (Corresponding author), Qi Li* (Corresponding author), Long Li* (Corresponding author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Despite increasing evidence that intercropping systems may increase crop productivity, little is known about whether and how soil biota change under interspecific competition among plants. A field experiment with maize/soybean intercropping and the corresponding monoculture systems was conducted under four nitrogen fertilization regimes to investigate the effects of interspecific plant interactions on grain yield, soil properties (β-glucosidase and water-soluble carbohydrates), and biotic communities (bacteria, fungi, and nematodes). The soils under maize and soybean in the intercropping system were sampled separately to represent intercropped maize and intercropped soybean, respectively. Compared to monocultures, the complexity and robustness of soil networks comprising bacterial, fungal, and nematode communities increased in intercropped maize soils, but densities of plant parasitic nematodes and β-glucosidase activity were reduced. Intercropped soybean soils had lower C availability due to chronic shading by maize, but a significant increase was found in saprophytic fungi, and plant parasitic nematodes compared to soybean monoculture soils. Although intercropped soybean suffered from interspecific competition with maize, the interactions within the fungal community increased for both crop species in the intercropping system. Our study demonstrates that increased carbon uptake in maize due to increased light capture in the intercropping system can facilitate nutrient cycling by altering the abundance of functional groups of soil organisms, such as saprophytic fungi, and enhancing network complexity and stability. We detected a trade-off between productivity and soil nematode diversity in the intercropping system under nitrogen fertilization, the yield of maize increased but soil nematode richness decreased at low nitrogen level, while the yield of soybean decreased but the nematode richness increased at high nitrogen level. These findings show that both trade-offs and benefits occur in intercropping systems and highlight the role of plant-soil biota interactions in such systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108595
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Early online date19 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 2023


  • Biotic network
  • Crop diversity
  • Intercropping system
  • Interspecific competition
  • Interspecific facilitation
  • Nitrogen fertilization

Research theme

  • Sustainable water and land use


Dive into the research topics of 'Interspecific interactions between crops influence soil functional groups and networks in a maize/soybean intercropping system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this