Globally, weeds are a major constraint to crop production and food security. Research within the weed ecology and evolution group at Rothamsted is focused on understanding the ecological and evolutionary forces that underpin the establishment, persistence and spread of weedy (and invasive) plant populations in agro-ecosystems.
Weeds, along with pests and diseases, account for serious yield losses across the world. However, unlike pests and diseases, weeds also have a positive function in the agro-ecosystem as they provide a food source for animals and birds that use farmland as a habitat. Consequently, although herbicides have dramatically reduced crop yield losses from weed competition, they have also had unintended consequences for farmland biodiversity, depleting arable plant diversity and abundance.
Publications from the Weed Ecology Group
Currently within the Weed Ecology and Evolution group we have two PhD projects.
On Section 8 (‘No weedkiller’), about 50 species occur with black-grass and common poppy being the commonest weeds on most plots. However, for many other species, there are striking differences in frequency between plots due to ecological adaptation to N availability. Section 8 also provides an invaluable reserve for several species that are rare, or declining, nationally. These include corn buttercup, shepherd’s needle and fine-leaved sandwort. Broadbalk is also the only site in the UK where corn cleavers has been recorded in recent years.
The rapid evolution of resistance to herbicides is a textbook example of ‘evolution-in-action’. Currently, in the UK, there is an epidemic of multiple herbicide resistant Alopecurus myosuroides (black-grass), that can no longer be controlled by conventional weed management strategies. Much of the work within the herbicide resistance group at Rothamsted is focused on multiple herbicide resistance in black-grass.