Journal Article

Using aquatic animals as partners to increase yield and maintain soil nitrogen in the paddy ecosystems

Whether species coculture can overcome the shortcomings of crop monoculture requires additional study. Here, we show how aquatic animals (i.e. carp, crabs, and softshell turtles) benefit paddy ecosystems when cocultured with rice. Three separate field experiments and three separate mesocosm experiments were conducted. Each experiment included a rice monoculture (RM) treatment and a rice-aquatic animal (RA) coculture treatment; RA included feed addition for aquatic animals. In the field experiments, rice yield was higher with RA than with RM, and RA also produced aquatic animal yields that averaged 0.52–2.57 t ha-1. Compared to their corresponding RMs, the three RAs had significantly higher apparent nitrogen (N)-use efficiency and lower weed infestation, while soil N contents were stable over time. Dietary reconstruction analysis based on 13C and 15N showed that 16.0–50.2% of aquatic animal foods were from naturally occurring organisms in the rice fields. Stable-isotope-labeling (13C) in the field experiments indicated that the organic matter decomposition rate was greater with RA than with RM. Isotope 15N labeling in the mesocosm experiments indicated that rice used 13.0–35.1% of the aquatic animal feed-N. All these results suggest that rice-aquatic animal coculture increases food production, increases N-use efficiency, and maintains soil N content by reducing weeds and promoting decomposition and complementary N use. Our study supports the view that adding species to monocultures may enhance agroecosystem functions.