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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.
Reduction of seed-bank persistence is an important goal for weed management systems. Recent interest in more biological-based weed management strategies has led to closer examination of the role of soil microorganisms. Incidences of seed decay with certain weed species occur in the laboratory; however, their persistence in soil indicates the presence of yet-unknown factors in natural systems that regulate biological mechanisms of seed antagonism by soil microorganisms. A fundamental understanding of interactions between seeds and microorganisms will have important implications for future weed management systems targeting seed banks. Laboratory studies demonstrate susceptibility to seed decay among weed species, ranging from high (velvetleaf) to very low (giant ragweed). Microscopic examinations revealed dense microbial assemblages formed whenever seeds were exposed to soil microorganisms, regardless of whether the outcome was decay. Microbial communities associated with seeds of four weed species (woolly cupgrass, jimsonweed, Pennsylvania smartweed, and velvetleaf) were distinct from one another. The influence of seeds on microbial growth is hypothesized to be due to nutritional and surface-attachment opportunities. Data from velvetleaf seeds suggests that diverse assemblages of bacteria can mediate decay, whereas fungal associations may be more limited and specific to weed species. Though microbial decay of seeds presents clear opportunities for weed biocontrol, limited success is met when introducing exogenous microorganisms to natural systems. Alternatively, a conservation approach that promotes the function of indigenous natural enemies through habitat or cultural management may be more promising. A comprehensive ecological understanding of the system is needed to identify methods that enhance the activities of microorganisms. Herein, we provide a synthesis of the relevant literature available on seed microbiology; we describe some of the major challenges and opportunities encountered when studying the in situ relationships between seeds and microorganisms, and present examples from studies by the ARS Invasive Weed Management Unit.
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