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Environmental Implications of Herbicide Resistance: Soil Biology and Ecology

  • Robert J. Kremer (a1)


Soil microbial community structure and activity are linked to plant communities. Weeds may alter their soil environment, selecting for specific rhizosphere microbial communities. Rhizosphere modification occurs for many crop and horticultural plants. However, impacts of weeds in agroecosystems on soil biology and ecology have received less attention because effective weed management practices were developed to minimize their impacts on crop production. The recent development of herbicide resistance (HR) in several economically important weeds leading to widespread infestations in crop fields treated with a single herbicide has prompted a re-evaluation of the effects of weed growth on soil biology and ecology. The objective of this article is to review the potential impacts of herbicide-resistant weeds on soil biological and ecological properties based on reports for crops, weeds, and invasive plants. Persistent weed infestations likely establish extensive root systems and release various plant metabolites through root exudation. Many exudates are selective for specific soil microbial groups mediating biochemical and nutrient acquisition processes. Exudates may stimulate development of microbial groups beneficial to weed but detrimental to crop growth or beneficial to both. Changes in symbiotic and associative microbial interactions occur, especially for arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) that are important in plant uptake of nutrients and water, and protecting from phytopathogens. Mechanisms used by weeds to disrupt symbioses in crops are not clearly described. Many herbicide-resistant weeds including Amaranthus and Chenopodium do not support AMF symbioses, potentially reducing AMF propagule density and establishment with crop plants. Herbicides applied to control HR weeds may compound effects of weeds on soil microorganisms. Systemic herbicides released through weed roots may select microbial groups that mediate detrimental processes such as nutrient immobilization or serve as opportunistic pathogens. Understanding complex interactions of weeds with soil microorganisms under extensive infestations is important in developing effective management of herbicide-resistant weeds.


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