How to use evolution sciences to improve cropping system sustainability

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Farming plant cooperation in crops

Germain Montazeaud , François Rousset , Florian Fort , Cyrille Violle , Hélène Fréville† and Sylvain Gandon†

Published:22 January 2020

https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.1290


Selection of the fittest can promote individual competitiveness but often results in the erosion of group performance. Recently, several authors revisited this idea in crop production and proposed new practices based on selection for cooperative phenotypes, i.e. phenotypes that increase crop yield through decreased competitiveness. These recommendations, however, remain difficult to evaluate without a formal description of crop evolutionary dynamics under different selection strategies. Here, we develop a theoretical framework to investigate the evolution of cooperation-related traits in crops, using plant height as a case study. Our model is tailored to realistic agricultural practices and shows that combining high plant density, high relatedness and selection among groups favours the evolution of shorter plants that maximize grain yield. Our model allows us to revisit past and current breeding practices in light of kin selection theory, and yields practical recommendations to increase cooperation among crops and promote sustainable agriculture

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