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"An Empirical and Simulation-Based Assessment of Tree Growth in Temperate Alley-Cropping Systems"

Diana-Maria Seserman has defended her PhD thesis on agroforestry at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus–Senftenberg, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Chair of Soil Protection and Recultivation. The dissertation was carried out under the BonaRes - SIGNAL project.

The potential of biomass generated from dedicated energy crops, used in short-rotation coppices (SRC), progressively grows recognition as a flexible primary source for the generation of energy, heat, fuel, and bio-based materials and chemicals. The alley-cropping systems (ACSs), which can integrate tree strips managed as SRC into agriculturally managed fields, are often regarded as an adaptable multi-crop land-use strategy that can provide ecological and economic benefits. The research aim of the present dissertation has focused on investigating the prospective implications of different site-specific conditions and scenarios on tree growth in ACSs with SRC, thus incorporating several experimental and simulation-based studies. For this, the ability of a process-oriented, eco-physiological tree growth model was investigated in order to (i) impute missing empirical data, thus securing a reliable repository of tree growth characteristics, (ii) simulate the tree growth in terms of woody biomass production in strong relation to the interactions with adjacent crops and their respective resource capture, (iii) predict and evaluate the tree growth sensitivity to prospective climate changes, thus performing risk assessments for the near and distant future, and (iv) derive and assess the land equivalent ratio (LER) and gross energy yield for different climatic, soil, and management scenarios. The findings have corroborated the potential tree growth vulnerability to prospective climatic changes, particularly to changes in water availability, and have underlined the importance of coping management strategies in SRC for forthcoming risk assessments and adaptation scenarios. Both LER and gross energy yields had resulted in a convex curve where the maximum values were achieved when either the tree or crop component was dominant (>75% of the land area) and minimum when these components shared similar proportions of land area. Collectively, the implications of different site-specific conditions and scenarios on tree growth in ACSs with SRC have been investigated in order to improve the decision-making, optimization, and adaptation of such systems. Last but not least, this dissertation has emphasized the considerable potential of modelling approaches in ACSs, as they can impute missing data from scarce available data and simulate tree and crop yields for specific site-conditions in a non-intrusive, inexpensive, and prompt way while supporting early site-setup planning.

Link to the thesis: here