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Ecological service providing crops effect on melon-weed competition and allelopathic interactions
Abstract and Figures
Cover crops provide a wide range of ecological benefits, so to be defined as Ecological Service providing Crops (ESCs). Accordingly, different ESCs could influence both weed density and biomass due to: (i) allelopathic effects, (ii) increased cash crop-weed competitiveness. In order to test this hypothesis, a field experiment was carried out in Central Italy, comparing different autumn-winter cereal ESCs (wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and their mixture), preceding melon crop, with a control (no ESC). Weed performances were evaluated during both the ESC and melon cropping cycles. At flowering stage, the ESCs were flattened by a roller crimper, obtaining a mulch layer in which the melon was transplanted. The competitive weed-crop relationship was assessed by means of indices of competition. Bioassay tests were performed to evaluate the allelopathic potential of the ESCs on target weed. The results obtained from both the open field and the laboratory tests demonstrated that the different ESC species significantly affected weed density before and after flattening, although no difference on ESC biomasses was recorded at termination. At melon harvest, weed biomass was significantly lower in ESC treatments than in control one, and crop biomasses did not show any difference among all treatments. Nevertheless, the melon competitive ability was significantly higher in the rye and barley mulch compared to control. The bioassay test showed lower root germination and growth in the tested ESC extracts with respect to the control. By this, the ESC species showed a role in weed management both during their cycle and after termination, giving a competitive advantage to the cash crop, probably due also to active allelopathic compounds released by the ESCs.
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