An ecological future for weed science to sustain crop production and the environment. A review

A - Papers appearing in refereed journals

MacLaren, C., Storkey, J., Menegat, A., Metcalfe, H. and Dehnen-Schmutz, K. 2020. An ecological future for weed science to sustain crop production and the environment. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development - ASD. 40, p. article 24.

AuthorsMacLaren, C., Storkey, J., Menegat, A., Metcalfe, H. and Dehnen-Schmutz, K.

Sustainable strategies for managing weeds are critical to meeting agriculture’s potential to feed the world’s population while conserving the ecosystems and biodiversity on which we depend. The dominant paradigm of weed management in developed countries is currently founded on the two principal tools of herbicides and tillage to remove weeds. However, evidence of negative environmental impacts from both tools is growing, and herbicide resistance is increasingly prevalent. These challenges emerge from a lack of attention to how weeds interact with and are regulated by the agroecosystem as a whole. Novel technological tools proposed for weed control, such as new herbicides, gene editing, and seed destructors, do not address these systemic challenges and thus are unlikely to provide truly sustainable solutions. Combining multiple tools and techniques in an Integrated Weed Management strategy is a step forward, but many integrated strategies still remain overly reliant on too few tools. In contrast, advances in weed ecology are revealing a wealth of options to manage weeds at the agroecosystem level that, rather than aiming to eradicate weeds, act to regulate populations to limit their negative impacts while conserving diversity. Here, we review the current state of knowledge in weed ecology and identify how this can be translated into practical weed management. The major points are the following: 1) the diversity and type of crops, management actions, and limiting resources can be manipulated to limit weed competitiveness whilst promoting weed diversity, 2) in contrast to technological tools, ecological approaches to weed management tend to be synergistic with other agroecosystem functions, and 3) there are many existing practices compatible with this approach that could be integrated into current systems, alongside new options to explore. Overall, this review demonstrates that integrating systems level ecological thinking into agronomic decision-making offers the best route to achieving sustainable weed management.

KeywordsEcological weed management; Sustainability; Agroecosystems; Weed diversity; Weed community; Weed-crop competition
Year of Publication2020
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development - ASD
Journal citation40, p. article 24
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Open accessPublished as ‘gold’ (paid) open access
FunderNatural Environment Research Council
Funder project or codeASSIST - Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems
Publisher's version
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online08 Jul 2020
Publication process dates
Accepted24 Jun 2020
PublisherSpringer France

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