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The U.S. Department of Agriculture–Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) has been a leader in weed science research covering topics ranging from the development and use of integrated weed management (IWM) tactics to basic mechanistic studies, including biotic resistance of desirable plant communities and herbicide resistance. ARS weed scientists have worked in agricultural and natural ecosystems, including agronomic and horticultural crops, pastures, forests, wild lands, aquatic habitats, wetlands, and riparian areas. Through strong partnerships with academia, state agencies, private industry, and numerous federal programs, ARS weed scientists have made contributions to discoveries in the newest fields of robotics and genetics, as well as the traditional and fundamental subjects of weed–crop competition and physiology and integration of weed control tactics and practices. Weed science at ARS is often overshadowed by other research topics; thus, few are aware of the long history of ARS weed science and its important contributions. This review is the result of a symposium held at the Weed Science Society of America’s 62nd Annual Meeting in 2022 that included 10 separate presentations in a virtual Weed Science Webinar Series. The overarching themes of management tactics (IWM, biological control, and automation), basic mechanisms (competition, invasive plant genetics, and herbicide resistance), and ecosystem impacts (invasive plant spread, climate change, conservation, and restoration) represent core ARS weed science research that is dynamic and efficacious and has been a significant component of the agency’s national and international efforts. This review highlights current studies and future directions that exemplify the science and collaborative relationships both within and outside ARS. Given the constraints of weeds and invasive plants on all aspects of food, feed, and fiber systems, there is an acknowledged need to face new challenges, including agriculture and natural resources sustainability, economic resilience and reliability, and societal health and well-being.
Rapid increases in herbicide resistance have highlighted the ability of weeds to undergo genetic change within a short period of time. That change, in turn, has resulted in an increasing emphasis in weed science on the evolutionary ecology and potential adaptation of weeds to herbicide selection. Here we argue that a similar emphasis would also be invaluable for understanding another challenge that will profoundly alter weed biology: the rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and the associated changes in climate. Our review of the literature suggests that elevated CO2 and climate change will impose strong selection pressures on weeds and that weeds will often have the capacity to respond with rapid adaptive evolution. Based on current data, climate change and rising CO2 levels are likely to alter the evolution of agronomic and invasive weeds, with consequences for distribution, community composition, and herbicide efficacy. In addition, we identify four key areas that represent clear knowledge gaps in weed evolution: (1) differential herbicide resistance in response to a rapidly changing CO2/climate confluence; (2) shifts in the efficacy of biological constraints (e.g., pathogens) and resultant selection shifts in affected weed species; (3) climate-induced phenological shifts in weed distribution, demography, and fitness relative to crop systems; and (4) understanding and characterization of epigenetics and the differential expression of phenotypic plasticity versus evolutionary adaptation. These consequences, in turn, should be of fundamental interest to the weed science community.
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