Evolutionary-thinking in agricultural weed management


Author for correspondence:
Paul Neve
Tel: +44 2476 575843


Agricultural weeds evolve in response to crop cultivation. Nevertheless, the central importance of evolutionary ecology for understanding weed invasion, persistence and management in agroecosystems is not widely acknowledged. This paper calls for more evolutionarily-enlightened weed management, in which management principles are informed by evolutionary biology to prevent or minimize weed adaptation and spread. As a first step, a greater knowledge of the extent, structure and significance of genetic variation within and between weed populations is required to fully assess the potential for weed adaptation. The evolution of resistance to herbicides is a classic example of weed adaptation. Even here, most research focuses on describing the physiological and molecular basis of resistance, rather than conducting studies to better understand the evolutionary dynamics of selection for resistance. We suggest approaches to increase the application of evolutionary-thinking to herbicide resistance research. Weed population dynamics models are increasingly important tools in weed management, yet these models often ignore intrapopulation and interpopulation variability, neglecting the potential for weed adaptation in response to management. Future agricultural weed management can benefit from greater integration of ecological and evolutionary principles to predict the long-term responses of weed populations to changing weed management, agricultural environments and global climate.