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 using 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 have emerged 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 (IWM) 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 ratios of 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.
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FunderCoventry University Doctoral Scholarship and the European Commission EcoDry Project (612686 FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IRSES). HM and JS are partly supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) research programme NE/N018125/1 LTS-M (ASSIST).
- Ecological weed management
- Weed diversity
- Weed community
- Weed-crop competition