Interspecific variation in persistence of buried weed seeds follows trade-offs among physiological, chemical, and physical seed defenses

Adam S. Davis, Xianhui Fu, Brian J. Schutte, Mark A. Berhow, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil seedbanks drive infestations of annual weeds, yet weed management focuses largely on seedling mortality. As weed seedbanks increasingly become reservoirs of herbicide resistance, species-specific seedbank management approaches will be essential to weed control. However, the development of seedbank management strategies can only develop from an understanding of how seed traits affect persistence. We quantified interspecific trade-offs among physiological, chemical, and physical traits of weed seeds and their persistence in the soil seedbank in a common garden study. Seeds of 11 annual weed species were buried in Savoy, IL, from 2007 through 2012. Seedling recruitment was measured weekly and seed viability measured annually. Seed physiological (dormancy), chemical (phenolic compound diversity and concentration; invertebrate toxicity), and physical traits (seed coat mass, thickness, and rupture resistance) were measured. Seed half-life in the soil (t0.5) showed strong interspecific variation (F10,30 = 15, p <.0001), ranging from 0.25 years (Bassia scoparia) to 2.22 years (Abutilon theophrasti). Modeling covariances among seed traits and seedbank persistence quantified support for two putative defense syndromes (physiological–chemical and physical–chemical) and highlighted the central role of seed dormancy in controlling seed persistence. A quantitative comparison between our results and other published work indicated that weed seed dormancy and seedbank persistence are linked across diverse environments and agroecosystems. Moreover, among seedbank-forming early successional plant species, relative investment in chemical and physical seed defense varies with seedbank persistence. Synthesis and applications. Strong covariance among weed seed traits and persistence in the soil seedbank indicates potential for seedbank management practices tailored to specific weed species. In particular, species with high t0.5 values tend to invest less in chemical defenses. This makes them highly vulnerable to physical harvest weed seed control strategies, with small amounts of damage resulting in their full decay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6836-6845
Number of pages10
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • chemical defense
  • dormancy
  • phenolic compounds
  • seed coat strength
  • seed defense syndromes
  • seed half-life
  • seed trait covariance
  • soil seed bank
  • weed management
  • weed seedbank ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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