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Mitigating crop yield losses through weed diversity

Abstract

Reconciling crop productivity and biodiversity maintenance is one of the main challenges of agriculture worldwide. Moreover, the importance of weed diversity in mitigating yield losses has been identified as one of the top five research priorities in weed science. We tested the hypotheses that (1) not all weed communities generate yield losses and (2) that more diversified weed communities can mitigate yield losses. The study is based on three years of observations of weed densities, weed biomass and crop biomass at four critical growth stages of winter cereals across 54 zones (36 unweeded and 18 weeded). Out of the six communities identified, only four generated significant yield losses in unweeded zones, ranging from 19% to 56%. The number of ears per plant and the number of grains per ear were systematically affected. Only one weed community was capable of reducing 1,000-kernel weight. Weed biomass decreased by 83% over the gradient of weed community evenness, whereas crop productivity increased by 23%. Diversified weed communities limited the negative effect of competitive and dominant species on crop productivity while potentially promoting ecosystem services provided by subordinate species.

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Fig. 1: Observed mean weed density and composition in the six WCCs (denoted C1 to C6) obtained by hierarchical classification.
Fig. 2: Conditional plots highlighting the relationships between crop biomass, weed biomass and evenness based on density or biomass.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.

Code availability

The code used to analyse the data and produce the figures is available from the corresponding author upon request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank (1) P. Chamoy, B. Pouilly and P. Farcy of the INRA experimental station in Bretenière, France, who carried out this field experiment, (2) all who participated in field work (D. Meunier, G. Louviot, M. Abgrall, J. Degenmann and the team Grenier with A. Baudron, L. Grall, M. Schwartz and M. Angaud) and (3) N. Colbach and D. Moreau for their scientific input. G.A. was funded by the International PhD Programme in Agrobiodiversity of the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, Italy, and hosted by the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in Dijon. We acknowledge financial support from the French project CoSAC (ANR-15-CE18-0007), the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 727321 (IWM PRAISE), the French ‘Investissement d’Avenir’ programme and the project ISITE-BFC ‘Agroecology in BFC’ (contract ANR-15-IDEX-03).

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N.M.-J. designed the study. N.M.-J., S.Cordeau and P.B. funded the research. G.A., E.V. and S.Cordeau collected the data. G.A. analysed the data. All authors were involved in the interpretation of the results and contributed to writing the original version of the manuscript and improving the subsequent ones.

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Correspondence to Stéphane Cordeau.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary methods, Tables 1–9, Figs. 1–4 and refs. 1–4.

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Adeux, G., Vieren, E., Carlesi, S. et al. Mitigating crop yield losses through weed diversity. Nat Sustain 2, 1018–1026 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0415-y

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