Global systematic review with meta-analysis reveals yield advantage of legume-based rotations and its drivers

Jie Zhao, Ji Chen, Damien Beillouin, Hans Lambers, Yadong Yang, Pete Smith, Zhaohai Zeng*, Jørgen E. Olesen, Huadong Zang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)
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Diversified cropping systems, especially those including legumes, have been proposed to enhance food production with reduced inputs and environmental impacts. However, the impact of legume pre-crops on main crop yield and its drivers has never been systematically investigated in a global context. Here, we synthesize 11,768 yield observations from 462 field experiments comparing legume-based and non-legume cropping systems and show that legumes enhanced main crop yield by 20%. These yield advantages decline with increasing N fertilizer rates and crop diversity of the main cropping system. The yield benefits are consistent among main crops (e.g., rice, wheat, maize) and evident across pedo-climatic regions. Moreover, greater yield advantages (32% vs. 7%) are observed in low- vs. high-yielding environments, suggesting legumes increase crop production with low inputs (e.g., in Africa or organic agriculture). In conclusion, our study suggests that legume-based rotations offer a critical pathway for enhancing global crop production, especially when integrated into low-input and low-diversity agricultural systems.

Crop rotations including legumes have been proposed as a strategy to enhance food production. Here, the authors conduct a global meta-analysis on legume-based crop rotations, showing that legume pre-crops increase 20% of yield in average across various crops and climatic regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4926
Pages (from-to)4926
Number of pages9
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (32101850, H.D.Z.; 32172125, Z.H.Z.), the Young Elite Scientists Sponsorship Program by CAST (2020QNRC001, H.D.Z.), the Joint Funds of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (U21A20218, Z.H.Z.) and the earmarked fund for China Agriculture Research System (CARS-07-B-5, Z.H.Z.). Contributions from Dr. Ji Chen are funded by H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (No. 839806), Aarhus University Research Foundation (AUFF-E-2019-7-1), Danish Independent Research Foundation (1127-00015B), and Nordic Committee of Agriculture and Food Research. We thank the authors whose work is included in this meta-analysis. We also thank Beibei Xin and Zhen Qin for their assistance on high-performance computing and the High-performance Computing Platform of China Agricultural University.


  • Agriculture
  • Crop Production
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Fabaceae
  • Fertilizers/analysis
  • Vegetables


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