Potential Greenhouse Gas Mitigation through Temperate Tree-Based Intercropping Systems

Andrew K. Evers1, Amanda Bambrick2, Simon Lacombe3, Michael C. Dougherty4, Matthias Peichl5, Andrew M. Gordon4, Naresh V. Thevathasan4, *, Joann Whalen2, Robert L. Bradley3
1 Golder Associates Ltd., 2390 Argentina Road, Missisauga, ON, L5N 5Z, Canada
2 Department of Natural Resources, McGill University, Macdonald Campus, 21 111Lakshore Road, Ste-Anne-de- Bellevue, Quebec, Canada, H9X 3V9
3 Department of Biology, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 boul. de l'Université Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada, J1K 2R1
4 School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1
5 School of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8S 4K1

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© 2010 Evers et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1, Canada; Tel: 519-824-4120 Ext. 52565; Fax: 519-837-0442; E-mail:


Increasing awareness of global climate change has pressured agricultural producers to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while at the same time encouraging them to maintain food production needed for an increasing population. Tree-based intercropping (TBI) systems are believed to be useful in climate change mitigation, especially in temperate regions, due to their potential to reduce GHG emissions from agricultural practices. The purpose of this paper is therefore to review some of the research conducted on GHG mitigation in TBI in southern Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Research conducted at the University of Guelph Agroforestry Research Station (GARS) indicated that TBI systems had the potential to lower N2O emissions by 1.2 kg ha-1 y-1 compared to a conventional agricultural field cropping system. Trees can assimilate residual nitrate (NO3-) left from nitrogen (N) fertilizer applications, thereby leaving less NO3- available for denitrification and subsequently reducing N2O losses. Carbon sequestration is also enhanced in TBI systems as carbon (C) is stored in both above and below ground tree components. Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) is higher in systems incorporating trees because tree litter decomposes slowly, therefore reducing CO2 loss to the atmosphere. The C sequestration potential of TBI systems and the possibility to include fast-growing tree species for bioenergy production in TBI systems make it a valid solution to mitigate climate change in temperate regions. The opportunity of C trading credits to offset the costs of implementing a TBI system and provide additional income to farmers could facilitate the adoption of TBI amidst agricultural producers in temperate regions.

Keywords: Agroforestry, greenhouse gas, intercropping, climate change, carbon sequestration, nitrous oxide.