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Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

Tillage system effects on weed ecology, herbicide activity and persistence: a review

B. S. Chauhan A C , G. S. Gill A and C. Preston B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Discipline of Agricultural and Animal Science, The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy Campus, SA 5371, Australia.

B Discipline of Plant and Food Science, The University of Adelaide, Waite Campus, SA 5064, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 46(12) 1557-1570
Submitted: 9 November 2005  Accepted: 16 June 2006   Published: 10 November 2006


In the past few years, there has been a growing trend towards reducing tillage in cropping systems to allow stubble retention, earlier planting and improved soil structure. However, the adoption of conservation tillage systems will change weed control practices. Different tillage systems interact with the micro-environment of weed seeds and can influence the pattern of recruitment from the weed seed bank. Here, we present a review of the effect of different tillage systems on weed ecology, herbicide activity and herbicide persistence. Tillage systems can have a major influence on the vertical distribution of weed seeds in the soil seed bank. However, the impact of the changes in the vertical seed distribution on weed seedling recruitment is not well understood. Usually weed seedling recruitment increases if tillage equipment brings buried seed to, or close to, the soil surface, and seedling recruitment decreases if surface seed is buried deeper in the soil. However, tillage responses have a tendency to be species specific and can also be influenced by the intensity of tillage. Any weed species in which germination is stimulated by exposure to light is likely to become more prevalent under reduced tillage systems. Similarly, species that require burial for germination may become less prevalent. Crop residue present on the soil surface can also influence weed seedling recruitment by modifying the physical environment (mainly temperature) of weed seeds. Weed responses to plant residue could also be influenced by the allelopathic activity of the residue and the sensitivity of the weed species present. Few studies have investigated the fate of weed seeds that fail to germinate under any tillage system. Further research is needed to determine whether the weed seeds that fail to germinate decay before the start of the next growing season or become part of a persistent seed bank. Crop residues present on the soil surface can intercept a considerable amount of the applied herbicide and, depending on the herbicide, this intercepted component is susceptible to losses. Therefore, conservation tillage systems are expected to have lower efficacy of soil active herbicides. However, there has been little investigation of rate of loss of soil active herbicides under reduced tillage systems and the results reported have been inconsistent. Much of the research on these effects is from overseas and may not be true in Australian conditions. Therefore, further work is needed to clearly understand the impact of changing tillage systems on weed ecology, herbicide performance and persistence.


We thank two anonymous referees for helpful comments on the manuscript.


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