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Functional–structural plant modeling highlights how diversity in leaf dimensions and tillering capability could promote the efficiency of wheat cultivar mixtures

  • Blanc, Emmanuelle
  • Barbillon, Pierre
  • Fournier, Christian
  • Lecarpentier, Christophe
  • Pradal, Christophe
  • Enjalbert, Jérôme
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2021
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Increasing the cultivated diversity has been identified as a major leverage for the agroecological transition as it can help improve the resilience of low input cropping systems. For wheat, which is the most cultivated crop worldwide in terms of harvested area, the use of cultivar mixtures is spreading in several countries, but studies have seldom focused on establishing mixing rules based on plant architecture. Yet, the aerial architecture of plants and the overall canopy structure are critical for field performance as they greatly influence light interception, plant interactions and yield. The very high number of trait combinations in wheat mixtures makes it difficult to conduct experimentations on this issue, which is why a modeling approach appears to be an appropriate solution. In this study, we used WALTer, a functional structural plant model (FSPM), to simulate wheat cultivar mixtures and try to better understand how differences between cultivars in key traits of the aerial architecture influence mixture performance. We simulated balanced binary mixtures of cultivars differing for different critical plant traits: final height, leaf dimensions, leaf insertion angle and tillering capability. Our study highlights the impact of the leaf dimensions and the tillering capability on the performance of the simulated mixtures, which suggests that traits impacting the plants' leaf area index (LAI) have more influence on the performance of the stand than traits impacting the arrangement of the leaves. Our results show that the performance of mixtures is very variable depending on the values of the explored architectural traits. In particular, the best performances were achieved by mixing cultivars with different leaf dimensions and different tillering capability, which is in agreement with numerous studies linking the diversity of functional traits in plant communities to their productivity. However, some of the worst performances were also achieved by mixing varieties differing in their aerial architecture, which suggests that diversity is not a sufficient criterion to design efficient mixtures. Overall, these results highlight the importance of simulation-based explorations for establishing assembly rules to design efficient mixtures.

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