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Review article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

An ecological future for weed science to sustain crop production and the environment. A review

MacLaren, Chloe; Storkey, Jonathan; Menegat, Alexander; Metcalfe, Helen; Dehnen-Schmutz, Katharina


Sustainable strategies for managing weeds are critical to meeting agriculture's potential to feed the world's population while conserving the ecosystems and biodiversity on which we depend. The dominant paradigm of weed management in developed countries is currently founded on the two principal tools of herbicides and tillage to remove weeds. However, evidence of negative environmental impacts from both tools is growing, and herbicide resistance is increasingly prevalent. These challenges emerge from a lack of attention to how weeds interact with and are regulated by the agroecosystem as a whole. Novel technological tools proposed for weed control, such as new herbicides, gene editing, and seed destructors, do not address these systemic challenges and thus are unlikely to provide truly sustainable solutions. Combining multiple tools and techniques in an Integrated Weed Management strategy is a step forward, but many integrated strategies still remain overly reliant on too few tools. In contrast, advances in weed ecology are revealing a wealth of options to manage weedsat the agroecosystem levelthat, rather than aiming to eradicate weeds, act to regulate populations to limit their negative impacts while conserving diversity. Here, we review the current state of knowledge in weed ecology and identify how this can be translated into practical weed management. The major points are the following: (1) the diversity and type of crops, management actions and limiting resources can be manipulated to limit weed competitiveness while promoting weed diversity; (2) in contrast to technological tools, ecological approaches to weed management tend to be synergistic with other agroecosystem functions; and (3) there are many existing practices compatible with this approach that could be integrated into current systems, alongside new options to explore. Overall, this review demonstrates that integrating systems-level ecological thinking into agronomic decision-making offers the best route to achieving sustainable weed management.


Ecological weed management; Sustainability; Agroecosystems; Weed diversity; Weed community; Weed-crop competition

Published in

Agronomy for Sustainable Development
2020, Volume: 40, number: 4, article number: 24

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Plant Protection Network

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG2 Zero hunger
    SDG12 Responsible consumption and production
    SDG15 Life on land
    SDG17 Partnerships for the goals

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Agricultural Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)