Wheat, barley and two morphologically contrasting cultivars of peas (leafy and semi-leafless) were grown in pure stands, at standard agricultural densities, and in additive mixtures of cereals with peas. The stands were grown in boxes in the field, and partitions were used to separate the effects of root and shoot interactions. The cereals and peas were either planted at the same time, or one species was planted 10 days before the other. The origin of the N present in each species was determined by applying N fertilizer labelled with 15N.
Both cultivars of peas had greater shoot and root competitive abilities than wheat or barley, probably because of their larger seed size; leafy peas had greater shoot and root competitive abilities than semi-leafless peas. Sowing peas after cereals reduced their competitive ability.
The relative yield total (RYT) of cereal-pea mixtures, based on total biomass, averaged 1·6 when only the root systems interacted, and 1·4 when only the shoot systems interacted, but did not differ significantly from 10 when both root and shoot systems interacted. RYT values were greater when peas were grown with wheat, rather than with barley, and when peas were sown at the same time as the cereals.
Shoot competition from peas increased the N% of cereals, but substantially reduced their total N content, because biomass yield was reduced. Shoot competition from cereals had no effect on the N% of peas, and only slightly reduced their total N content. Shoot competition between cereals and peas had no significant effect upon the proportion of N derived from various sources by either cereals or peas.
Root competition from peas significantly reduced both the N% and total N content of cereals. Root competition from cereals had little effect on the N% of peas, but significantly reduced their total N content and increased the proportion of N derived from rhizobial fixation from 76 to 94%. Since cereals and peas largely used different sources of N, resource complementarity for N was probably an important component of intercropping advantage, when the roots of cereals and peas shared soil resources.