Challenges for herbicide resistance evolution and management: 50 years after Harper


Paul Neve, Warwick HRI, University of Warwick, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire, CV35 9EF, UK. Tel: (+44) 24 7657 5843; Fax: (+44) 24 7657 4500; E-mail:


Evolved resistance to herbicides is a classic example of ‘evolution in action’. This paper calls for a greater integration of ‘evolutionary-thinking’ into herbicide resistance research. This integration, it is argued, should lead weed scientists to become less focused on simply describing resistance and more driven towards a deeper understanding of the evolutionary forces that underpin resistance evolution. I have attempted in this short paper to initiate a debate into how this might be done. In the first instance, I have highlighted the widespread misunderstanding and mis-measurement by weed scientists of fitness and fitness costs. I have also speculated on the potential for herbicide rotations to exacerbate resistance problems by selecting for generalist (metabolic) resistance. Finally, I have discussed in greater detail the contribution of herbicide rates to resistance evolution and have reported work conducted in Australia which has shown the potential for low herbicide doses to rapidly select for very high levels of resistance in Lolium rigidum. The controversial hypotheses and suggestions put forward need to be tested by field experimentation. They may prove to be unfounded or incorrect, but if they cause us to question and expand the current resistance paradigm they will have been useful.