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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.
Megathyrsus maximus is nonnative in the neotropics, with a tall form that is commonly used as a forage grass and a smaller-statured form that is considered invasive in south Texas, USA. Biological control researchers are challenged to find an agent that will attack the short form, but not the desirable tall form in other parts of the neotropics. We conducted molecular analyses on 155 Megathyrsus maximus samples from its native range in Africa and compared them with U.S. short-form samples to help determine the geographic origins of its invasion. We found eight distinct genotypes in 34 short-form samples from Texas and Florida, USA. The highest genetic similarity of invasive samples was with plants from South Africa, while highest matches for the desirable tall form were from Kenya, Uganda, Ivory Coast, and Zambia. Ongoing biological control agent exploration and research has found agents from Kenya that are associated with an M. maximus genotype not well matched to the invasive short form, thus leading to a lack of rearing success. Two eriophyoid mite agents from the genetic match locality in South Africa have been evaluated but are not sufficiently host specific, as they develop on both the short and tall forms. Additional exploration is needed at the genetic match populations in South Africa to discover and evaluate potential biological control agents for the invasive form of M. maximus.
Invasions can be genetically diverse, and that diversity may have implications for invasion management in terms of resistance or tolerance to control methods. We analyzed the population genetics of Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia L.), an ecologically important and common invasive tree found in many western U.S. riparian areas. We found three cpDNA haplotypes and, using 11 microsatellite loci, identified three genetic clusters in the 460 plants from 46 populations in the western United States. We found high levels of polymorphism in the microsatellites (5 to 15 alleles per locus; 106 alleles total). Our native-range sampling was limited, and we did not find a genetic match for the most common cpDNA invasive haplotype or a strong confirmation of origin for the most common microsatellite genetic cluster. We did not find geographic population structure (isolation by distance) across the U.S. invasion, but we did identify invasive populations that had the most diversity, and we suggest these as choices for initial biological control–release monitoring. Accessions from each genetic cluster, which coarsely represent the range of genetic diversity found in the invasion, are now included in potential classical biological control agent efficacy testing.
Russian knapweed is an outcrossing perennial invasive weed in North America that can spread by both seed and horizontal rhizomic growth leading to new shoots. The predominant mode of spread at the local scale and dispersal at the long-distance scale informs control but has not been quantitatively researched. We used amplified fragment-length polymorphisms (AFLPs) of DNA collected from 174 shoots in two discrete patches of Russian knapweed at each of three locations in Montana. Out of the 174 shoots collected, we found nine AFLP genotypes. Three out of the six patches were monotypic; the other three patches each had one rare genotype. No genotypes were shared between patches. The maximum diameter of a genet (a genetic individual) was 56.5 m. These results indicate that patch expansion at the local scale is almost entirely by rhizomes that spread and develop new shoots. At the long-distance scale, dispersal is by seed. Controlling seed development through biological control and herbicide use may be effective at stopping long-distance dispersal but may not affect expansion of existing patches.
Hoary cress is a perennial herbaceous weed that has invaded agricultural and natural areas of western North America. Invasions are often composed of dense patches, and it is unclear whether clonal growth via lateral rhizomes or seedling recruitment is the dominant method of patch expansion. To study the clonal structure of this invasive, six patches from three USA populations (194 ramets) were analyzed with the use of Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms (AFLPs). Known siblings and clones were also included to ensure sufficient variation for discrimination between clonal and nonclonal ramets. Patches had low genet/ramet ratios (mean G/N = 0.25) and low diversity levels (mean D = 0.49) compared to similar clonal studies. Single genets represented 55–85% of the ramets sampled in a patch, and the largest genet was 38 m across. Hoary cress exhibits a strong bias toward patch-size increase from clonal reproduction rather than from seedling recruitment. Results indicate that biological control methods that focus on reducing or eliminating seed production would do little to stop expansion of a patch. Despite the domination of a patch by one or a few large genets, other smaller genets are able to persist or are occasionally recruited into dense areas of a patch.
The rate at which plant invasions occur is accelerating globally, and a growing amount of recent research uses genetic analysis of invasive plant populations to better understand the histories, processes, and effects of plant invasions. The goal of this review is to provide natural resource managers with an introduction to this research. We discuss examples selected from published studies that examine intraspecific genetic diversity and the role of hybridization in plant invasion. We also consider the conflicting evidence that has emerged from recent research for the evolution of increased competitiveness as an explanation for invasion, and the significance of multiple genetic characteristics and patterns of genetic diversity reported in the literature across different species invasions. High and low levels of genetic diversity have been found in different invading plant populations, suggesting that either selection leading to local adaptation, or pre-adapted characteristics such as phenotypic plasticity, can lead to aggressive range expansion by colonizing nonnative species. As molecular techniques for detecting hybrids advance, it is also becoming clear that hybridization is a significant component of some plant invasions, with consequences that include increased genetic diversity within an invasive species, generation of successful novel genotypes, and genetic swamping of native plant gene pools. Genetic analysis of invasive plant populations has many applications, including predicting population response to biological or chemical control measures based on diversity levels, identifying source populations, tracking introduction routes, and elucidating mechanisms of local spread and adaptation. This information can be invaluable in developing more effectively targeted strategies for managing existing plant invasions and preventing new ones. Future genetic research, including the use of high throughput molecular marker systems and genomic approaches such as microarray analysis, has the potential to contribute to better understanding and more effective management of plant invasions.
Medusahead is a close relative of bread wheat that is native to Eurasia but has become a noxious, invasive weed in North America. Intergeneric use of primers for bread wheat simple-sequence repeat (SSR) markers was tested in medusahead in order to expand the pool of available genetic resources for study of this plant. Forty-two primer pairs were screened in medusahead, of which 29 produced visible bands in agarose gels. Amplicons from eight of these markers were sequenced and analyzed for the presence of SSRs and single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) among medusahead individuals from six populations in the western Great Basin. Of the eight sequenced amplicons, two contained SSRs, both of which were polymorphic and shared by the original bread wheat marker. Six of the eight markers combined to detect 33 SNP loci. BLAST comparisons of the eight amplicons revealed variable numbers of matching sequences from wheat and other grass species ranging from 0 to > 200 matches. Using data from the polymorphic loci, population genetic analysis of the six invasive medusahead populations indicated that they arose from two separate introductions with two additional subclusters possible within the two principal clusters. Extrapolating from these results, it is reasonable to expect that between 170 and 830 of the approximately 1,200 publicly available bread wheat SSRs would produce useful marker loci in medusahead.
The genus Diorhabda (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae) was recently revised, using morphological characters, into five tamarisk-feeding species, four of which have been used in the tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) biological control program in North America and are the subject of these studies. The taxonomic revision is here supported using molecular genetic and hybridization studies. Four Diorhabda species separated into five clades using cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 sequence data with Diorhabda elongata separating into two clades. Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis using genomic DNA revealed only four clades, which corresponded to the four morphospecies. Hybridization between the four species yielded viable eggs in F1 crosses but viability was significantly lower than achieved with intraspecific crosses. Crosses involving Diorhabda carinulata and the other three species resulted in low F2 egg viability, whereas crosses between D. elongata, Diorhabda sublineata and Diorhabda carinata resulted in > 40% F2 egg viability. Crosses between D. carinulata and the other three species resulted in high mortality of D. carinulata females due to genital mismatch. AFLP patterns combined with principal coordinates analysis enabled effective separation between D. elongata and D. sublineata, providing a method to measure genetic introgression in the field.
Perennial pepperweed is an invasive plant species in North America, native to temperate Eurasia and northern Africa. Effective biological control depends upon correct taxonomic identification. Therefore, we investigated morphological and genetic data (cpDNA sequences and amplified fragment length polymorphisms [AFLP]) in its native range, where the species is at times treated as multiple taxa (L. latifolium, L. affine and L. obtusum). We also analyzed genetic data to determine the number and distribution of haplotypes and genotypes in the invaded range. Using Bayesian analysis, we found three clusters of AFLP genotypes in the native range, but little correlation between these clusters and morphological characters used to distinguish taxa. Also, we found combinations of morphological character states within many native range plants that are incompatible with current species descriptions, offering no support for splitting L. latifolium sensu lato into three species. In North America 97% of the genetic variation was among populations and there were only eight AFLP genotypes in 288 plants, suggesting few introductions or a severe bottleneck, and little or no creation of new genotypes since introduction. We found plants in the native range that are genetically similar (88 to 99%) to six of the eight invasive AFLP genotypes, suggesting that Kazakhstan and China are origins for much of the North American invasion.
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