Question: What are the main broad-scale spatial and temporal gradients in species composition of arable weed communities and what are their underlying environmental variables?
Location: Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Methods: A selection of 2653 geographically stratified relevés sampled between 1954–2003 was analysed with direct and indirect ordination, regression analysis and analysis of beta diversity.
Results: Major changes in weed species composition were associated with a complex gradient of increasing altitude and precipitation and decreasing temperature and base status of the soils. The proportion of hemicryptophytes increased, therophytes and alien species decreased, species richness increased and beta diversity decreased with increasing altitude. The second most important gradient of weed species composition was associated with seasonal changes, resulting in striking differences between weed communities developed in spring and summer. In summer, weed communities tended to have more neophytes, higher species richness and higher beta diversity. The third gradient reflected long-term changes in weed vegetation over past decades. The proportion of hemicryptophytes and neophytes increased, while therophytes and archaeophytes decreased, as did species richness over time. The fourth gradient was due to crop plants. Cultures whose management involves less disturbances, such as cereals, harboured less geophytes and neophytes, and had higher species richness but lower beta diversity than frequently disturbed cultures, such as root crops.
Conclusions: Species composition of Central European weed vegetation is mainly influenced by broad-scale climatic and edaphic factors, but its variations due to seasonal dynamics and long-term changes in agricultural management are also striking. Crop plants and crop-specific management affect it to a lesser, but still significant extent.