Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Weed


Weeds are currently present in a wide range of ecosystems worldwide. Although the beginning of their evolution is largely unknown, researchers assumed that they developed in tandem with cultivation since the appearance of agricultural habitats some 12,000 years ago. These rapidly-evolving plants invaded the human disturbed areas and thrived in the new habitat. Here we present unprecedented new findings of the presence of “proto-weeds” and small-scale trial cultivation in Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old hunter-gatherers' sedentary camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. We examined the plant remains retrieved from the site (ca. 150,000 specimens), placing particular emphasis on the search for evidence of plant cultivation by Ohalo II people and the presence of weed species. The archaeobotanically-rich plant assemblage demonstrates extensive human gathering of over 140 plant species and food preparation by grinding wild wheat and barley. Among these, we identified 13 well-known current weeds mixed with numerous seeds of wild emmer, barley, and oat. This collection provides the earliest evidence of a human-disturbed environment-at least 11 millennia before the onset of agriculture-that provided the conditions for the development of “proto-weeds”, a prerequisite for weed evolution. Finally, we suggest that their presence indicates the earliest, small-scale attempt to cultivate wild cereals seen in the archaeological record.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Species, Plant, Wheat, Cereal, Israel, Weed


A neglected aspect of alien invasive plant species is their influence on mosquito vector ecology and malaria transmission. Invasive plants that are highly attractive to Anopheles mosquitoes provide them with sugar that is critical to their survival. The effect on Anopheles mosquito populations was examined through a habitat manipulation experiment that removed the flowering branches of highly attractive Prosopis juliflora from selected villages in Mali, West Africa.

Concepts: Malaria, Anopheles, Mosquito, Genetic pollution, Extinction, Invasive species, Weed, Introduced species


High crop yields depend on the continuous input of orthophosphate (PO(4)(−3))-based fertilizers and herbicides. Two major challenges for agriculture are that phosphorus is a nonrenewable resource and that weeds have developed broad herbicide resistance. One strategy to overcome both problems is to engineer plants to outcompete weeds and microorganisms for limiting resources, thereby reducing the requirement for both fertilizers and herbicides. Plants and most microorganisms are unable to metabolize phosphite (PO(3)(−3)), so we developed a dual fertilization and weed control system by generating transgenic plants that can use phosphite as a sole phosphorus source. Under greenhouse conditions, these transgenic plants require 30–50% less phosphorus input when fertilized with phosphite to achieve similar productivity to that obtained by the same plants using orthophosphate fertilizer and, when in competition with weeds, accumulate 2–10 times greater biomass than when fertilized with orthophosphate.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Ammonia, Fertilizer, Phosphate, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Weed, Glyphosate


Japanese knotweed Fallopia japonica is an extremely abundant invasive plant in Belgium and surrounding countries. To date, no eradication method is available for land managers facing the invasion of this rhizomatous plant. We tested different chemical herbicides with two application methods (spraying and stem injection), as well as mechanical treatments, on knotweed clones throughout southern Belgium. The tested control methods were selected to be potentially usable by managers, e.g., using legally accepted rates for herbicides. Stem volume, height and density reduction were assessed after one or two years, depending on the control method. Labor estimations were made for each control method. No tested control method completely eradicated the clones. Stem injection with glyphosate-based herbicide (3.6 kg ha(-1) of acid equivalent glyphosate) caused the most damage, i.e., no sprouting shoots were observed the year following the injection. The following year, though, stunted shoots appeared. Among the mechanical control methods, repeated cuts combined with native tree transplanting most appreciably reduced knotweed development. The most efficient methods we tested could curb knotweed invasion, but are not likely to be effective in eradicating the species. As such, they should be included in a more integrated restoration strategy, together with prevention and public awareness campaigns.

Concepts: English-language films, Plant stem, Fallopia, Polygonaceae, Japanese knotweed, Weed, Herbicide, Roundup


Genetically modified (GM) crops have been and continue to be a subject of controversy despite their rapid adoption by farmers where approved. For the last two decades, an important matter of debate has been their impact on pesticide use, particularly for herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops. Some claim that these crops bring about a decrease in herbicide use, while others claim the opposite. In fact, since 1996, most cultivated GMOs have been GMHT crops, which involve the use of an associated herbicide, generally glyphosate. In their very first years of adoption, HT crops often led to some decrease in herbicide use. However, the repetition of glyphosate-tolerant crops and of glyphosate only applications in the same fields without sufficient alternation and herbicide diversity has contributed to the appearance of glyphosate-resistant weeds. These weeds have resulted in a rise in the use of glyphosate and other herbicides. This article explores this situation and the impacts of herbicide-resistant weeds, using an interdisciplinary approach and drawing on recent data. The paper analyzes the spread of GMHT crops worldwide and their consequences on herbicide use in the USA in particular. It then addresses the global development of glyphosate-resistant weeds and their impact, particularly focusing on the USA. Finally, the last section explores how industry, farmers, and weed scientists are coping with the spread of resistant weeds. The concluding comments deal more widely with trends in GM crops.

Concepts: Agriculture, Pesticide, Abstraction, Genetically modified organism, Weed, Herbicide, Glyphosate, Roundup


Herbicide hormesis is commonly observed at sub-toxic doses of herbicides and other phytotoxins. The occurrence and magnitude of this phenomenon is influenced by plant growth stage and physiological status, environmental factors, the endpoint measured, and the timing between treatment and endpoint measurement. The mechanism in some cases of herbicide hormesis appears to be related to the target site of the herbicide, whereas, in other examples hormesis may be by overcompensation to moderate stress induced by the herbicides or a response to disturbed homeostasis. Theoretically, herbicide hormesis could be used in crop production, but this has been practical only in the case of the use of herbicides as sugarcane “ripeners” to enhance sucrose accumulation. The many factors that can influence the occurrence, the magnitude, and the dose range of hormetic increases in yield for most crops make it too unpredictable and risky as a production practice with the currently available knowledge. Herbicide hormesis can cause undesired effects in situations in which weeds are unintentionally exposed to hormetic doses (e.g., in adjacent fields, when shielded by crop vegetation). Some weeds that evolved herbicide resistance may have hormetic responses to recommended herbicide application rates. Little is known about such effects under field conditions. A more complete understanding of herbicide hormesis is needed to exploit its potential benefits and to minimize its potential harmful effects in crop production.

Concepts: Measurement, Dose, Toxicology, Knowledge, The Target, Weed, Crop, Hormesis


Gene drives may be capable of addressing ecological problems by altering entire populations of wild organisms, but their use has remained largely theoretical due to technical constraints. Here we consider the potential for RNA-guided gene drives based on the CRISPR nuclease Cas9 to serve as a general method for spreading altered traits through wild populations over many generations. We detail likely capabilities, discuss limitations, and provide novel precautionary strategies to control the spread of gene drives and reverse genomic changes. The ability to edit populations of sexual species would offer substantial benefits to humanity and the environment. For example, RNA-guided gene drives could potentially prevent the spread of disease, support agriculture by reversing pesticide and herbicide resistance in insects and weeds, and control damaging invasive species. However, the possibility of unwanted ecological effects and near-certainty of spread across political borders demand careful assessment of each potential application. We call for thoughtful, inclusive, and well-informed public discussions to explore the responsible use of this currently theoretical technology.

Concepts: Gene, Biodiversity, Biology, Malaria, Ecology, Natural environment, Invasive species, Weed


Plant-microbe interactions play crucial roles in species invasions but are rarely investigated at the intraspecific level. Here, we study these interactions in three lineages of a globally distributed plant, Phragmites australis. We use field surveys and a common garden experiment to analyze bacterial communities in the rhizosphere of P. australis stands from native, introduced, and Gulf lineages to determine lineage-specific controls on rhizosphere bacteria. We show that within-lineage bacterial communities are similar, but are distinct among lineages, which is consistent with our results in a complementary common garden experiment. Introduced P. australis rhizosphere bacterial communities have lower abundances of pathways involved in antimicrobial biosynthesis and degradation, suggesting a lower exposure to enemy attack than native and Gulf lineages. However, lineage and not rhizosphere bacterial communities dictate individual plant growth in the common garden experiment. We conclude that lineage is crucial for determination of both rhizosphere bacterial communities and plant fitness.Environmental factors often outweigh host heritable factors in structuring host-associated microbiomes. Here, Bowen et al. show that host lineage is crucial for determination of rhizosphere bacterial communities in Phragmites australis, a globally distributed invasive plant.

Concepts: Eukaryote, Root, Extinction, Invasive species, Weed, Introduced species


The direct negative effects of invasive plant species on agriculture and biodiversity are well known, but their indirect effects on human health, and particularly their interactions with disease-transmitting vectors, remains poorly explored. This study sought to investigate the impact of the invasive Neotropical weed Parthenium hysterophorus and its toxins on the survival and energy reserves of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. In this study, we compared the fitness of An. gambiae fed on three differentially attractive mosquito host plants and their major toxins; the highly aggressive invasive Neotropical weed Parthenium hysterophorus (Asteraceae) in East Africa and two other adapted weeds, Ricinus communis (Euphorbiaceae) and Bidens pilosa (Asteraceae). Our results showed that female An. gambiae fitness varied with host plants as females survived better and accumulated substantial energy reserves when fed on P. hysterophorus and R. communis compared to B. pilosa. Females tolerated parthenin and 1-phenylhepta-1, 3, 5-triyne, the toxins produced by P. hysterophorus and B. pilosa, respectively, but not ricinine produced by R. communis. Given that invasive plants like P. hysterophorus can suppress or even replace less competitive species that might be less suitable host-plants for arthropod disease vectors, the spread of invasive plants could lead to higher disease transmission. Parthenium hysterophorus represents a possible indirect effect of invasive plants on human health, which underpins the need to include an additional health dimension in risk-analysis modelling for invasive plants.

Concepts: Human, Malaria, Africa, Anopheles, Euphorbiaceae, Invasive species, Weed, Invasive plant species


Understanding interactions between native and invasive plant species in field settings and quantifying the impact of invaders in heterogeneous native ecosystems requires resolving the spatial scale on which these processes take place. Therefore, functional tracers are needed that enable resolving the alterations induced by exotic plant invasion in contrast to natural variation in a spatially explicit way. 15N isoscapes, i.e., spatially referenced representations of stable nitrogen isotopic signatures, have recently provided such a tracer. However, different processes, e.g. water, nitrogen or carbon cycles, may be affected at different spatial scales. Thus multi-isotope studies, by using different functional tracers, can potentially return a more integrated picture of invader impact. This is particularly true when isoscapes are submitted to statistical methods suitable to find homogeneous subgroups in multivariate data such as cluster analysis. Here, we used model-based clustering of spatially explicit foliar δ15N and δ13C isoscapes together with N concentration of a native indicator species, Corema album, to map regions of influence in a Portuguese dune ecosystem invaded by the N2-fixing Acacia longifolia. Cluster analysis identified regions with pronounced alterations in N budget and water use efficiency in the native species, with a more than twofold increase in foliar N, and δ13C and δ15N enrichment of up to 2‰ and 8‰ closer to the invader, respectively. Furthermore, clusters of multiple functional tracers indicated a spatial shift from facilitation through N addition in the proximity of the invader to competition for resources other than N in close contact. Finding homogeneous subgroups in multi-isotope data by means of model-based cluster analysis provided an effective tool for detecting spatial structure in processes affecting plant physiology and performance. The proposed method can give an objective measure of the spatial extent of influence of plant-plant interactions, thus improving our understanding of spatial pattern and interactions in plant communities.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Ecosystem, Genetic pollution, Invasive species, Weed, Introduced species, Acacia, Invasion biology terminology