WEED BIOLOGY, ECOLOGY, AND BIOLOGICAL CONTROL

There appears to be a shift occurring among Weed Scientists away from herbicide evaluations and herbicide physiology research toward research in weed biology and weed ecology. The change in emphasis toward weed biology and ecology raises many questions. Will this shift in emphasis continue? What will this shift in emphasis mean to how we control weeds? How will a change to a discipline dominated by scientists with training in ecology, impact the future of biological control of weeds? Will future Weed Scientists be better equipped to develop integrated weed management systems using biological control as their lynch-pin instead of herbicides? Will scientists with training in biology and ecology be better able to address the problems associated with weed resistance to herbicides?

What are the clues that there is a shift toward weed ecology? In recent issues of the journal Weed Science there have been many more articles on topics related to weed ecology than to herbicide physiology. For example, there have been articles on soil seedbanks, population dynamics, Fusarium spp. and Phomopsis spp. for biological control, and weed-crop interference. The recent Weed Science Society of America meetings also supported the idea of a change in emphasis in weed science. The sessions on weed biology and ecology were well attended and contained more papers than any other section of the Society. In general the quality of papers and research they reflected was very good. Many were presented by graduate students who represent the future of our discipline.

Another indication and catalyst for the shift in our discipline are changes in funding sources. In the past many Weed Science programs have relied extensively on agricultural chemical company funding, but industry support of field evaluations of herbicides by University scientists is decreasing. The introduction of herbicide-resistant crops will cause a few herbicides to be used on large acreages of corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton. Industry scientists are doing more of the research needed to develop weed management systems with herbicide-resistant crops. Also, consolidation of agricultural chemical companies has negatively affected industry support of University-based weed management research. Competitive grants are becoming more important to support weed science research. Many of these programs, for example the U.S.D.A. National Research Initiative, Weed Science, and the regional Integrated Pest Management programs, emphasize weed biology and ecology. It is this funding that pays for graduate students and the research which generates the presentations at meetings and articles for our journals.

What does this shift in emphasis mean? At this stage its hard to say what this shift will mean for the future of weed management. It does mean that more future Weed Scientists will have training in ecology. This understanding should translate into a greater appreciation of the complexity and interrelations of agro-ecosystems. Will it result in more research on biological agents for weed control? Only time will provide an answer to these questions, but I do see a discipline evolving to be more open to biological control and less reliant on herbicides for weed management.

- John Masiunas, University of Illinois


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