Weed seed fate during summer fallow: The importance of seed predation and seed burial
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Maximizing weed seed exposure to seed predators by delaying post-harvest tillage has been suggested as a way to increase weed seed loss to predation in arable fields. However, in some areas of northeastern Spain, fields are still tilled promptly after cereal harvest. Tillage usually places seeds in a safer environment compared to the soil surface, but it can also increase seed mortality through seed decay and fatal germination. By burying the seeds, tillage also prevents weed seed predation. Weed seed fate in a tilled vs. a no-till environment was investigated during the summer fallow months in three cereal fields in semi-arid northeastern Spain. Rigid ryegrass and catchweed bedstraw seeds were used. Predation rates were measured in a no-till area within each field in 48-h periods every 3 wk, and long-term predation rates were estimated. Fate of buried seeds was measured by burying 20 nylon bags with 30 seeds of each weed species from July to September at a depth of 6 cm in a tilled area contiguous to the no-till area. Predation rates over the entire summer were 62% and 49% for rigid ryegrass and catchweed bedstraw, respectively. High availability of crop seeds (preferred by ants) on the soil surface may have decreased predation of weed seeds early in the season. Seed loss due to burial was 54% and 33% for rigid ryegrass and catchweed bedstraw, respectively. Unusual above-average precipitation probably prompted higher than normal weed germination rates (fatal germination) in some fields, and thus led to higher seed mortality rates compared with an average year. These results suggest that leaving the fields untilled after harvest may be the optimum strategy to reduce inputs to the weed seedbank during the summer fallow period in semi-arid systems.