Alley cropping: Global patterns of species composition and function

Kevin J. Wolz, Evan H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Alley cropping − the intentional integration of trees and crops − is one of the most common agroforestry practices around the world. To better understand its potential to provide economic and ecological benefits over separately cultivated trees and crops, alley cropping research has expanded significantly over the last few decades. While alley cropping is inherently diverse in its composition and function, no comprehensive inventory of its many forms has been performed. We analyzed historical and geo-climatic trends in species composition and function of all alley cropping field experiments in the literature. A total of 1244 publications from 77 countries over the last 35 years were included. Tree diversity was high across all regions, with 410 species utilized from 192 genera. Dominant trees included Populus and Juglans in the temperate zone, Eucalyptus and Populus in the subtropics, and Leucaena and Gliricidia in the tropics. Alley crops were also highly diverse − 276 species within 181 genera − but were dominated by a few annual grains in each region. Despite the diversity in composition across systems, the agricultural functions of both trees and crops were limited. Trees for biomass were utilized in 82% of temperate experiments, while trees for food, fodder, and crop facilitation were more common in the subtropics and tropics. To best orient the growing interest in alley cropping around the world, this inventory was used to identify existing gaps in the literature and inform future opportunities in alley cropping research. Four frontiers in alley cropping research were identified as (1) within-system tree diversity, (2) tree crops for food and fodder production, (3) perennial alley crops, and (4) trees for crop facilitation via shade, nitrogen fixation, and mulch production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
StatePublished - Jan 15 2018


  • Agri-horti systems
  • Agroforestry
  • Multispecies systems
  • Silvoarable
  • Tree crops
  • Tree-based intercropping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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