Previous research indicates a correlation between leaf area index (LAI) and yield of full-season soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merrill], which is a single crop planted early in the season. Leaf area index values of at least 3.5–4.0 in the reproductive stages are required for maximum potential yield. It is unknown how yields of double-crop soybean, which is planted late into harvested small grain fields, respond to changes in leaf area index. We hypothesized that double-crop soybean would be more sensitive to defoliation than full-season soybean. This study used linear and linear plateau models to describe the yield response of full-season and double-crop soybean to reductions in leaf area index through manual defoliation, and evaluated the yield response of double-crop soybean to reductions in leaf area index through natural insect defoliation. From 15 manual defoliation experiments over 3 yr, significant linear decreases in yield occurred in both full-season and double-crop soybean when leaf area index values were below 3.5–4.0 by developmental stages R4 to R5, whereas yields usually reached a plateau at higher leaf area index levels. Average yield loss was 769 ± 319 kg ha−1 for each unit decrease in leaf area index below the plateau; average maximum yield was 3,484 ± 735 kg ha−1. From eight field experiments over 2 yr, insect defoliators had no effect on double-crop soybean yield; leaf area index levels were above 4.0 by the developmental stage when leaf area index estimates were taken (R3 to R6). Therefore, double-crop soybean that maintains leaf area index values above the 3.5–4.0 critical level by mid-reproductive developmental stages can tolerate defoliating pests.
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