A new hypothesis for the functional role of diversity in mediating resource pools and weed-crop competition in agroecosystems

R. G. Smith, D. A. Mortensen, M. R. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


We develop a new conceptual model we call the Resource Pool Diversity Hypothesis (RPDH) aimed at explaining how soil resource pool diversity may mediate competition for soil resources between weeds and crops. The primary tenets of the RPDH are that (i) in plant communities, the intensity of inter-specific competition can depend upon the degree to which niche differentiation and resource partitioning occur among species, (ii) agricultural systems are unique in that management practices, such as crop rotation, source of fertility and weed management, result in inputs to the soil and (iii) these inputs directly or indirectly become soil resource pools from which crops and weeds may partition resources. The RPDH leads to the novel prediction that along a gradient of increasing cropping system diversity, yield loss due to weed-crop competition (i.e. the impact on yield per unit weed density) for soil resources should decrease. Similarly, the degree to which crops and weeds overlap in soil resource niche breadth (which is determined by species-specific functional traits for resource acquisition), will determine the extent to which weed-crop competition weakens as resource pool diversity increases. While there have been no direct tests of the RPDH, we highlight evidence from the agricultural literature that provides strong support for components of the hypothesis. Validation of the RPDH would have important implications across a broad range of cropping systems for the development of management strategies that aim to reduce yield loss impact per unit weed plant density and the fundamental principles of integrated weed management, such as the concepts of weed thresholds and critical periods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)37-48
Number of pages12
JournalWeed Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Plant Science


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