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We conducted an online survey of weed scientists in the United States and Canada to (1) identify research topics perceived to be important for advancing weed science in the next 5 to 10 years and (2) gain insight into potential gaps in current expertise and funding sources needed to address those priorities. Respondents were asked to prioritize nine broad research areas, as well as 5 to 10 subcategories within each of the broad areas. We received 475 responses, with the majority affiliated with academic institutions (55%) and working in cash crop (agronomic or horticultural) study systems (69%). Results from this survey provide valuable discussion points for policy makers, funding agencies, and academic institutions when allocating resources for weed science research. Notably, our survey reveals a strong prioritization of Cultural and Preventative Weed Management (CPWM) as well as the emerging area of Precision Weed Management and Robotics (PWMR). Although Herbicides remain a high-priority research area, continuing challenges necessitating integrated, nonchemical tactics (e.g., herbicide resistance) and emerging opportunities (e.g., robotics) are reflected in our survey results. Despite previous calls for greater understanding and application of weed biology and ecology in weed research, as well as recent calls for greater integration of social science perspectives to address weed management challenges, these areas were ranked considerably lower than those focused more directly on weed management. Our survey also identified a potential mismatch between research priorities and expertise in several areas, including CPWM, PWMR, and Weed Genomics, suggesting that these topics should be prime targets for expanded training and collaboration. Finally, our survey suggests an increasing reliance on private sector funding for research, raising concerns about our discipline’s capacity to address important research priority areas that lack clear private sector incentives for investment.
Governments and conservation organizations worldwide are motivated to manage invasive species due to quantified and perceived negative ecological and economic impacts invasive species impose. Thus, determining which species cause significant negative impacts, as well as clear articulation of those impacts, is critical to meet conservation priorities. This process of determining which species warrant management can be straightforward when there are clear negative impacts, such as dramatic reductions in native diversity. However, the majority of changes to ecosystem pools and fluxes cannot be readily categorized as ecologically negative or positive (e.g., lower soil pH). Additionally, diverse stakeholders may not all agree on impacts as negative. This complexity challenges our ability to simply and uniformly determine which species cause negative impact, and thus which species merit management, especially as we expand invader impacts to encompass a more holistic ecosystem perspective beyond biodiversity and consider stakeholder perspectives and priorities. Thus, we suggest impact be evaluated in a context that is dictated by governing policies or conservation/land management missions with the support of scientists. In other words, within each jurisdiction, populations are identified as causing negative impact based on the hierarchical governing policies and mission of that parcel. Framing negative impact in a management context has the advantages of (1) easily scaling from individual landscapes to geopolitical states; (2) better representing how managers practice, (3) reflecting invasive species as spatially contextual, not universal, and (4) allowing for flexibility with dynamic ecosystems undergoing global change. We hope that framing negative impact in an applied context aids management prioritization and achieving conservation goals.
Cover crop residue can act as a mulch that will suppress weeds, but as the residue degrades, weed suppression diminishes. Biomass of cover crop residue is positively correlated to weed suppression, but little research is available regarding the composition of cover crop residue and its effect on weed suppression. Field experiments were conducted to determine the impact of cover crop residue properties (i.e., total carbon, total nitrogen, lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose) on summer annual weed suppression and cash crop yield. Cover crop monocultures and mixtures were planted in the fall and designed to provide a range of biomass and residue properties. Cover crops were followed by corn (Zea mays L.) or soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.]. At termination, cover crop biomass and residue components were determined. Biomass ranged from 3,640 to 8,750 kg ha−1, and the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio ranged from 12:1 to 36:1. As both cover crop biomass and C:N ratio increased, weed suppression and duration of suppression increased. For example, a C:N ratio of 9:1 is needed to suppress redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus L.) 50% at 4 wk after termination (WAT), and that increases to 16:1 and 20:1 to have 50% suppression at 6 and 8 WAT, respectively. Similarly, with biomass, 2,800 kg ha−1 is needed for 50% A. retroflexus suppression at 4 WAT, which increases to 5,280 kg ha−1 and 6,610 kg ha−1 needed for 50% suppression at 6 and 8 WAT, respectively. In general, similar trends were observed for pitted morningglory (Ipomoea lacunosa L.) and large crabgrass [Digitaria sanguinalis (L.) Scop.]. Corn and soybean yield increased as both cover crop biomass and C:N ratio increased where no weed control measures were implemented beyond cover crop. The same trend was observed with cash crop yield in the weed-free subblocks, with one exception. This research indicates that cover crop residue composition is important for weed control in addition to biomass.
Horseweed is a problematic weed to control, especially in no-tillage production. Increasing cases of herbicide resistance have exacerbated the problem, necessitating alternative control options and an integrated weed management approach. Field experiments were conducted to evaluate horseweed suppression from fall-planted cover crop monocultures and mixtures as well as two fall-applied residual herbicide treatments. Prior to cover crop termination, horseweed density was reduced by 88% to 96% from cover crops. At cover crop termination in late spring, cereal rye biomass was 7,671 kg ha–1, which was similar to cereal rye–containing mixtures (7,720 kg ha–1) but greater than legumes in monoculture (3,335 kg ha–1). After cover crops were terminated in late spring using a roller crimper, corn and soybeans were planted and horseweed was evaluated using density counts, visible ratings, and biomass collection until harvest. Forage radish winterkilled, offering no competition in late winter or biomass to contribute to horseweed suppression after termination. Excluding forage radish in monoculture, no difference in horseweed suppression was detected between cereal rye–containing cover crops and legumes (crimson clover and hairy vetch) in monoculture. Likewise, horseweed suppression was similar between monocultures and mixtures, with the exception of one site-year in which mixtures provided better suppression. In this experiment, the cover crop treatments performed as well as or better than the fall-applied residual herbicides, flumioxazin+paraquat and metribuzin+chlorimuron-ethyl. These results indicate that fall-planted cover crops are a viable option to suppress horseweed and can be an effective part of an integrated weed management program. Furthermore, cover crop mixtures can be used to gain the benefits of legume or brassica cover crop species without sacrificing horseweed suppression.
Biological invasions are one of the grand challenges facing society, as exotic species introductions continue to rise and can result in dramatic changes to native ecosystems and economies. The scale of the “biological invasions crisis” spans from hyperlocal to international, involving a myriad of actors focused on mitigating and preventing biological invasions. However, the level of engagement among stakeholders and opportunities to collaboratively solve invasives issues in transdisciplinary ways is poorly understood. The Biological Invasions: Confronting a Crisis workshop engaged a broad group of actors working on various aspects of biological invasions in Virginia, USA—researchers, Extension personnel, educators, local, state, and federal agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and land managers—to discuss their respective roles and how they interact with other groups. Through a series of activities, it became clear that despite shared goals, most groups are not engaging with one another, and that enhanced communication and collaboration among groups is key to designing effective solutions. There is strong support for a multistakeholder coalition to affect change in policy, public education/engagement, and solution design. Confronting the biological invasions crisis will increasingly require engagement among stakeholders.
The Appalachian region of the United States is home to the largest temperate deciduous forest in the world, though surface mining has caused significant forest loss. Many former coal mines are now dominated by invasive plants, which often inhibit establishment of desirable species, especially slower-growing native trees. Autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.) is a nonnative, nitrogen-fixing shrub that was historically planted on former coalfields, but now impedes reclamation. To better understand the influence of E. umbellata management practices on hardwood establishment, we evaluated two common management practices: cutting and cut stump herbicide treatment. Planted native tree species, including black cherry (Prunus serotina Ehrh.), pin oak (Quercus palustris Münchh.), and red maple (Acer rubrum L.), were monitored for survival and performance over two growing seasons following E. umbellata removal. In each plot, we also measured plant-available nitrate (NO3−) and ammonium (NH4+) in soils using ionic exchange membranes. At the end of the first growing season, native tree survival was high, and the presence or absence of E. umbellata had little effect on tree survival or growth, despite the higher plant-available nitrate where E. umbellata was present. By the end of the second growing season, native tree survival dropped to 20% to 60% and varied among E. umbellata treatments. Survival was highest when E. umbellata was cut and treated with herbicide, though tree growth was similar across all treatments without E. umbellata. When establishing native trees to replace E. umbellata, cutting and herbicide application treatment of the invader resulted in the highest overall efficacy (100% control), though the most cost-effective method may be to simply cut mature stands despite regrowth, as this resulted in equivalent native tree growth over 2 yr. While this allowed E. umbellata regeneration, it provided sufficient invader control to allow initial tree establishment. Cutting and herbicide application treatment resulted in less E. umbellata regeneration and appears to provide greater assurance that established trees will persist over the long term.
The negative effects of invasive plant species on native ecosystems, which can be large and long-lasting, are the primary justifications for their research and management. Tremendous effort is focused on quantifying the ecological impacts of invasive plants, though two different methods are primarily used: observational (compare invaded and uninvaded) and removals (compare invaded and invader removal). However, it is unknown whether these methods, which differ in their assumptions and execution, yield similar results, which could affect our ability to draw broad conclusions within and across studies. Therefore, we performed a meta-analysis on 174 studies that described 547 impacts of 72 invasive plants to test the effect of study method, invader cover, and removal period on the direction and magnitude of impact. Overall, by only considering impact magnitude and not direction, both observational and removal methods yielded similar results—invasive plants are changing most aspects of the ecosystem—and the variation among species and study systems was dramatically reduced compared with traditional, directionally focused studies. This is contrary to a similar analysis that did not control for directionality of impacts, which found overall differences in impact depended on methodology. However, even when the effects of study ecosystem, invader life-form, and impact type were accounted for, significant differences occurred between removal and observational studies. Particularly vulnerable systems appear to be those that would be more greatly disturbed by the removal of the target species, such as tree species or invasive plants in riparian areas. Additionally, impact magnitude increased with invader cover and removal time. We confirm that invasive plants impact the systems they invade in a nonuniform manner; however, we suggest some study conditions may be more sensitive to study methodology. Careful consideration should be given as to which methodology is used in the context of the study system.
Ecological impacts from invasive plants that have been identified include reductions in biodiversity, changes in resource cycling, and disruptions of ecosystem function. To mitigate these negative ecological impacts, managers work to remove invasive plants. However, removal does not necessarily immediately lead to a return to the uninvaded ecological state. Similarly, the accumulation rate of ecological impacts following invader establishment is almost entirely unknown for most species, hindering identification of optimal management times. The accumulation and loss (so-called legacy effects) of impacts following invader establishment and removal represent an “invasion shadow.” To begin to understand invasion shadows, we measured the changes in biotic and abiotic ecological impacts during establishment and following removal of the forest understory invader Japanese stiltgrass. We found that when the abiotic metrics were considered, seeded areas became more functionally similar to the invaded landscape and removed areas became more similar to the uninvaded landscape. However, while the plant community did not change in a 3-yr period during a new invasion, following invader removal, it became less similar to both the invaded and uninvaded landscape altogether, suggesting legacies. Surprisingly, all changes occurred almost immediately and persisted following invader establishment and removal. Our results show, at least in a 3-yr period, that ecosystems can respond to changes in invader abundance, and in some cases simply removing the invader could result in long-term changes to the resident plant community.
Many introduced species are capable of both sexual and vegetative reproduction. Our understanding of the ecology of such species depends on the trade-offs between vegetative and sexual reproduction and the ecological conditions that favor both modes of reproduction and how those factors influence the population ecology of introduced species. Here, we studied the efficacy of propagation via both seeds and rhizomes in Johnsongrass, a widespread invasive grass whose success is due to its prolific production of shattering seeds and rhizomes, the latter of which are readily dispersed by anthropogenic and natural processes. In a common garden in Virginia, we varied the density of seeds and rhizomes and manipulated whether recruits experienced interspecific competition. Johnsongrass recruited from both seeds and rhizomes. We compared the efficacy of seeds and rhizomes on a per propagule basis and by standardizing them according to their total carbon content. Rhizomes were more efficient than seeds on a per propagule basis, but seeds propagated more efficiently than rhizomes on a per unit of carbon basis, establishing in nearly all plots and obtaining much greater biomass than rhizomes. We also found that rhizomes were subject to stronger negative density dependence than seeds and were more sensitive to site variation and competition. Our results suggest that, provided sufficient dispersal, a single Johnsongrass plant produces enough propagules to establish over more than a hectare, even at relatively low propagule densities. Proper understanding of both seed and vegetative propagation is crucial for understanding the ecology of this and other invasive species that utilize multiple reproductive modes.
The sterile hybrid, giant miscanthus, has emerged as a promising cellulosic bioenergy crop because of its rapid growth rate, high biomass yields, and tolerance to poor growing conditions; these are traits that are desirable for cultivation, but also have caused concern for their contribution to invasiveness. New seed-bearing lines of giant miscanthus would decrease establishment costs for growers, yet this previously unresearched propagule source increases fears of escape from cultivation. To evaluate the consequences of seed escape, we compared seedling establishment among seven habitats: no-till agricultural field, agricultural field edge, forest understory, forest edge, riparian, pasture and roadside; these were replicated in Virginia (Blacksburg and Virginia Beach) and Georgia (Tifton), USA. We use a novel head-to-head comparison of giant miscanthus against five invasive and three noninvasive species, thus generating relative comparisons. Overall seed germination was low, with no single species achieving germination rates >37%, in all habitats and geographies. However, habitats with available bare ground and low resident plant competition, such as the agricultural field and forest understory, were more invasible by all species. Giant miscanthus seeds emerged in the roadside and forest edge habitats at all sites. Early in the growing season, we observed significantly more seedlings of giant miscanthus than the invasive and noninvasive species in the agricultural field. Interestingly, overall seedling mortality of giant miscanthus was 99.9%, with only a single 4 cm (1.58 in) tall giant miscanthus seedling surviving at the conclusion of the 6-mo study. The ability to make relative comparisons, by using multiple control species, was necessary for our conclusions in which both giant miscanthus and the noninvasive control species survival (≤1%) contrasted with that of our well-documented invasive species (≤10%). Considering the low overall emergence, increased propagule pressure may be necessary to increase the possibility of giant miscanthus escape. Knowledge gained from our results may help prepare for widespread commercialization, while helping to identify susceptible habitats to seedling establishment and aiding in the development of management protocols.
The United States is charging toward the largest expansion of agriculture in 10,000 years with vast acreages of primarily exotic perennial grasses planted for bioenergy that possess many traits that may confer invasiveness. Cautious integration of these crops into the bioeconomy must be accompanied by development of best management practices and regulation to mitigate the risk of invasion posed by this emerging industry. Here I review the current status of United States policy drivers for bioenergy, the status of federal and state regulation related to invasion mitigation, and survey the scant quantitative literature attempting to quantify the invasive potential of bioenergy crops. A wealth of weed risk assessments are available on exotic bioenergy crops, and generally show a high risk of invasion, but should only be a first-step in quantifying the risk of invasion. The most information exists for sterile giant miscanthus, with preliminary empirical studies and demographic models suggesting a relatively low risk of invasion. However, most important bioenergy crops are poorly studied in the context of invasion risk, which is not simply confined to the production field; but also occurs in crop selection, harvest and transport, and feedstock storage. Thus, I propose a nested-feedback risk assessment (NFRA) that considers the entire bioenergy supply chain and includes the broad components of weed risk assessment, species distribution models, and quantitative empirical studies. New information from the NFRA is continuously fed back into other components to further refine the risk assessment; for example, empirical dispersal kernels are utilized in landscape-level species distribution models, which inform habitat invasibility studies. Importantly, the NFRA results in a relative invasion risk to known species (e.g., is giant reed a higher or lower invasion risk than johnsongrass). This information is used to design robust mitigation plans that include record keeping, regular scouting and reporting, prudent harvest and transport practices that consider species biology, and eradication protocols as an ultimate precaution. Finally, a socio-political balance must be struck (i.e., a cost-benefit analysis) among our energy choices that consider the broader implications, which includes the risk of future invasions.
Interest in the cultivation of bioenergy feedstocks has increased the need for information in this rapidly developing sector of agriculture. Many fast-growing, large-statured perennial grasses have been selected because of their high biomass production potential, competitive nature, and ability to tolerate marginal growing conditions. However, weed pressure in the establishment phase can be detrimental to crop yield. Weed control is one of the most costly and resource-intensive aspects of bioenergy crop establishment. Unfortunately, little information exists on practical weed management techniques for the majority of these new crops. The tolerance of switchgrass, big bluestem, reed canarygrass, sorghum, giant reed, eulaliagrass, and giant miscanthus (sterile and seeded) to 22 PRE and 22 POST herbicides were evaluated. Plants were grown in the greenhouse and evaluated for injury, height, and aboveground biomass after 5 or 7 wk for PRE and POST applications, respectively. PRE and POST application of 2,4-D, bentazon, bromoxynil, carfentrazone, dicamba, halosulfuron, and topramezone did not significantly injure any species. Giant miscanthus was more tolerant to PRE herbicides when established from rhizomes compared with seed establishment. Supporting previous research, all eulaliagrass and switchgrass cultivars demonstrated comparable tolerance to PRE application of all 22 herbicides. With the information gained in this study a suite of herbicides may have potential for use in bioenergy crops; however, they should be tested on larger-scale field trials over multiple growing seasons to validate initial findings.
Miscanthus sinensis is a perennial grass native to Asia, but since its introduction to the United States in the late 19th century, it has become both a major ornamental crop and invasive species. Previous studies of the ecology of M. sinensis in both its introduced and native ranges have suggested that it may be occupying a novel ecological niche in the introduced range. Miscanthus sinensis and its daughter species, Miscanthus × giganteus, are under evaluation as bioenergy crops; therefore, characterization of the ecology and environmental niche of M. sinensis is essential to mitigate the risk of fostering future invasion in the United States. In July 2011, we surveyed 18 naturalized M. sinensis populations spanning the U.S. distribution, covering a 6° latitudinal gradient from North Carolina to Massachusetts. Miscanthus sinensis populations ranged in size from 3 to 181,763 m2 with densities between 0.0012 and 2.2 individuals m−2, and strongly favored highly disturbed and unmanaged habitats such as roadsides and forest edges. Population size and individual plant morphology (i.e., tiller height, basal diameter, and tiller number) were not affected by soil characteristics and nutrient availability, though increased tree canopy cover was associated with reduced population size (P < 0.0001). Plant size and vigor were not significantly affected by low light availability, which supports previous suggestions of shade tolerance of M. sinensis. In summary, M. sinensis can tolerate a broad range of climatic conditions, light availability, and nutrient availability in the eastern United States, suggesting risk of further invasion beyond its current distribution in the United States.
Concern raised against using highly competitive, exotic, large-statured, perennial grasses with fast growth rates as bioenergy crops has led to calls for risk assessment before widespread cultivation. Weed risk assessments (WRAs) are decision support tools commonly used throughout the world to determine the invasion risk of new plant taxa—primarily used as a pre-entry screen. Here, we compare the common Australian (A-WRA) and newer U.S. (US-WRA) models to evaluate the invasion risk of 16 candidate bioenergy crops and to compare their WRA scores to 14 important agronomic crops and 10 invasive species with an agronomic origin. Of the 40 species assessed, the A-WRA and US-WRA ranked 34 and 28 species, respectively, as high risk, including the major crops alfalfa, rice, canola, and barley. Surprisingly, in several cases, both models failed to effectively parse weeds from crops. For example, cereal rye received scores above (US-WRA) or comparable to (A-WRA) kudzu, a widespread damaging invader of the Southeastern United States introduced as forage. Our results indicate that these models are unable to accurately address broad, intraspecific variation and that species introduced for agronomic purposes pose special limitations to WRAs. This further supports other calls for postborder evaluation (e.g., field testing) following WRA screening. We should be cautious of the role of WRAs in setting policy, as illustrated by this relative evaluation of novel crops.
Two broad aims drive weed science research: improved management and improved
understanding of weed biology and ecology. In recent years, agricultural
weed research addressing these two aims has effectively split into separate
subdisciplines despite repeated calls for greater integration. Although some
excellent work is being done, agricultural weed research has developed a
very high level of repetitiveness, a preponderance of purely descriptive
studies, and has failed to clearly articulate novel hypotheses linked to
established bodies of ecological and evolutionary theory. In contrast,
invasive plant research attracts a diverse cadre of nonweed scientists using
invasions to explore broader and more integrated biological questions
grounded in theory. We propose that although studies focused on weed
management remain vitally important, agricultural weed research would
benefit from deeper theoretical justification, a broader vision, and
increased collaboration across diverse disciplines. To initiate change in
this direction, we call for more emphasis on interdisciplinary training for
weed scientists, and for focused workshops and working groups to develop
specific areas of research and promote interactions among weed scientists
and with the wider scientific community.
The historic maternal environment; the identity of competing, neighboring plants; and biotic stresses, such as fungal disease and herbivory, interact to influence the competitive ability, reproductive output, and plasticity of weed populations. A weed capable of altering its phenotype in response to environmental factors is better able to compete for resources in agroecosystems, thereby reducing crop yields and contributing more seeds to the seed bank. Velvetleaf is a highly competitive annual weed in many North American cropping systems, exhibiting a high degree of phenotypic plasticity in response to biotic and abiotic factors. We examined the effects of seed size (small and large), competitive environment (with and without soybean), and stress level (none = no treatment, moderate = pathogen inoculation, high = pathogen plus herbicide) on velvetleaf allometry and reproductive output during three field seasons. Only under the high-stress treatment was velvetleaf biomass, height, and reproductive output compromised (> 15% each), and these traits were further reduced with soybean competition. Soybean competition alone reduced velvetleaf biomass (> 50%), height (25%), and seed output (50%), but effects of competition varied with stress level. Velvetleaf plants that originated from large seeds (≥ 10 mg) generally outperformed plants originating from small seeds (< 10 mg) except under the high-stress treatment. These findings suggest that velvetleaf life-history traits and reproductive output in the current generation are a function of both present and historic factors. Management strategies for this species should involve tactics that not only reduce its competitive ability (e.g., biomass, height) but also decrease its seed production via synergistic stressors such as increased crop competitiveness, reduced-rate herbicide applications, and pathogen infection.
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