[permaculture] Breeding plants in diverse communities may lead to more productive plants

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Tue Nov 11 19:20:30 EST 2014


Even in the early years of the new "organic" agriculture [organic
gardening, organic farming, biointensive, regenerative, biological,
natural, beyondorganic agriculture]
there was considerable emphasis placed on polyculture and taking that to
extreme limits, permaculture; also companion cropping, succession cropping,
intercropping/interplanting.
It was an assumed fact that this would be practiced if you were gardening
or farming naturally.
You write: "Would experiments on intercropping, for example, show even
greater benefits if the plant varieties tested were
bred in an diverse ecosystem rather than monoculture? Are standard garden
catalog variety seeds suitable genetics for permaculture?"
I like your use of the term permaculture instead of agriculture. Yes, I
would assume that non-gmo, untreated, preferably organically grown seeds
would be just fine for such an experiment.
If you could make plantings in "old" soil, minimally conditioned and
amended, you might get more interesting results.
A permaculture educational curriculum should absolutely have a section on
what to do, or preferably what not to do, with the soil on your land or
land you're working that you rent or are loaned. This should involve an in
depth look at soil types, the nature of the terrain, i.e. grades, slopes
and all other features including a comprehensive plant inventory. Part of
this section of such a course should contain one key question: Are there
any parts of this land that should not be driven on or worked with a
tractor or rototiller, ever, only selectively hand worked with some places
not even walked on. This is a very valid question. Doing crop plant
development on raw untouched land allows plants to grow in more natural
conditions than in specially prepared soil. The only amendments would be
well aged compost mixed with N, P & K (from rock dusts) as needed and
microbially-enhanced compost tea.

On Tue, Nov 11, 2014 at 3:27 PM, Alia Tsang <alia at dietrick.org> wrote:

> This article was interesting (though I'm still working on digesting
> it). It suggests that the offspring of plants that have been growing
> in a diverse setting for generations (8 years in this experiment) are
> more productive (as measured by above ground biomass) than plants that
> have been growing for generations in monoculture. The probable
> mechanism is greater niche differentiation, or specialization, which
> reduces competition. The implications for plant breeding could be
> interesting to think about. Would experiments on intercropping, for
> example, show even greater benefits if the plant varieties tested were
> bred in an diverse ecosystem rather than monoculture? Are standard
> garden catalog variety seeds suitable genetics for permaculture?
>
> The study doesn't look at what's going on belowground, unfortunately.
> (And they used a really artificial agricultural soil + sand + perlite
> mix to test the plants on.)
>
> Article link and abstract below, I can send a PDF to anyone interested.
>
> Alia
>
> Selection for niche differentiation in plant communities increases
> biodiversity effects
> http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7525/full/nature13869.html
>
> In experimental plant communities, relationships between biodiversity
> and ecosystem functioning have been found to strengthen over time1, 2,
> a fact often attributed to increased resource complementarity between
> species in mixtures3 and negative plant–soil feedbacks in
> monocultures4. Here we show that selection for niche differentiation
> between species can drive this increasing biodiversity effect. Growing
> 12 grassland species in test monocultures and mixtures, we found
> character displacement between species and increased biodiversity
> effects when plants had been selected over 8 years in species mixtures
> rather than in monocultures. When grown in mixtures, relative
> differences in height and specific leaf area between plant species
> selected in mixtures (mixture types) were greater than between species
> selected in monocultures (monoculture types). Furthermore, net
> biodiversity and complementarity effects1, 2 were greater in mixtures
> of mixture types than in mixtures of monoculture types. Our study
> demonstrates a novel mechanism for the increase in biodiversity
> effects: selection for increased niche differentiation through
> character displacement. Selection in diverse mixtures may therefore
> increase species coexistence and ecosystem functioning in natural
> communities and may also allow increased mixture yields in agriculture
> or forestry. However, loss of biodiversity and prolonged selection of
> crops in monoculture may compromise this potential for selection in
> the longer term.
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-- 
Lawrence F. London
lfljvenaura at gmail.com
http://www.avantgeared.com
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