Shade trees and tree pruning alter throughfall and microclimate in cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) production systems

Agroforestry system before and after pruning of cocoa and shade trees

Shade trees in agroforestry systems protect the understory cocoa from climate extremes. Shade tree pruning manages microclimatic conditions in favor of cocoa production while tree diversity is maintained. Adaptation of pruning has to consider seasonal changes in temperature and precipitation to protect the understory cocoa.

Context Structural characteristics of tree stands such as species diversity, tree density, and stratification can affect throughfall and microclimate. Pruning changes the canopy and may therefore modulate internal conditions.
Aims The aim of this study is to assess the environmental growing conditions of cocoa trees.
Methods We monitored canopy openness and the impact of stand structure on throughfall and microclimate in three cocoa production systems (monoculture, agroforestry, and successional agroforestry) and a natural regrowth in a long-term trial in Bolivia from 2013 to 2015. We further focused on the effect of annual shade tree and cocoa pruning on these variables to evaluate the potential impact of this activity.
Results Agroforestry systems buffered extreme climate events like temperature fluctuations compared to monocultures but reduced light and throughfall drastically. Spatial variability of throughfall and transmitted light were low under a high and closed shade tree canopy. Shade tree pruning resulted in higher canopy openness, light transmittance, and throughfall, while the buffer function of the agroforestry systems concerning temperature and humidity fluctuations was reduced.
Conclusion Differences between cocoa production systems regarding throughfall and microclimate were overlain by pruning activities. Cocoa agroforestry systems are temporal dynamic systems. Pruning timing and intensity is pivotal for balancing light and water availability under seasonally varying environmental conditions to conserve micro-environments for cocoa production with less exposure to unfavorable climate.

Agroforestry, Pruning, Light, Cocoa, Throughfall, Bolivia

Niether, W., Armengot, L., Andres, C. et al. Annals of Forest Science (2018) 75: 38.

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