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Winter cover crops for local ecosystems: linking plant traits and ecosystem function

Authors

  • Brook J Wilke,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, 3700 East Gull Lake Drive, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
    • Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, 3700 East Gull Lake Drive, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
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  • Sieglinde S Snapp

    1. Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and W.K. Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, 3700 East Gull Lake Drive, Hickory Corners, MI 49060, USA
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Abstract

Winter cover crops are capable of supplying multiple economic and environmental benefits in temperate environments of North America, but the lack of adapted populations for specific environmental and agricultural contexts has resulted in cover crops that are unreliable and perform ecosystem functions unevenly. To maximize the benefits provided by winter cover crops, we argue for trait selection by crop scientists that is cognizant of desired ecosystem functions, with the goal of providing commercially available populations that have variable functions. We illustrate this approach through a case study of a promising winter annual legume cover crop, hairy vetch (Vicia villosa). Six key traits and associated functions are considered within specific agroecological contexts. We discuss tradeoffs that may occur among desired plant traits and illustrate how over-selection for a particular trait could negatively affect performance and overall benefits from a cover crop. Intraspecific combinations of complementary cover crops are suggested as means to achieve multiple agroecosystem functions. Copyright © 2008 Society of Chemical Industry

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