Friend or Foe: Investigating the Relationship between a Corn Crop and a Native Ragweed Population
(1) Northern Burlington County Regional High School, Columbus, New Jersey, (2) Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
As the demand for food increases with the ever-growing world population, crop production and growing efficiency must also be sustainably increased. Many factors, including energy cost, land allocation, and water usage are known to have a great impact on crop production. In particular, competition from invasive and native species can greatly decrease the growth and viability of crops. In this work, we explored the relationship between a competitive plant species growth and crop yield. Thus, we measured the effects of competition from a non-crop population on field corn crop yield, comparing a test sample in which weeds were allowed to grow freely and a control sample in which weed growth was not permitted. Interestingly, after observing growth over several weeks, we found that the test sample containing the competitive species actually outperformed the control sample in terms of the corn population’s height, ear yield, and mass of crop produced. This led us to conduct soil testing on both populations to quantify nutrient availability. We found that levels of calcium and/or magnesium were more abundant in the soil of our no-weed control sample compared to our test sample and could be inhibiting growth. From this experiment, we concluded that the relationship between crops and their neighboring species is more complex than competition alone, and depending on the circumstances, non-crop species can enhance growth.