The vast majority of the time, science returns incremental progress, where small and not-very-exciting-by-themselves results of many single studies eventually string together into a coherent picture that expands our understanding of the world, and can be used to advance management. There are notable exceptions, of course, but few and far between. This study certainly fits into the first case, and that’s okay. Basic biological knowledge accumulated over time does help us frame and deepen our thinking about problematic weeds in a useful way, and to explain, confirm, and quantify the patterns and responses we see in the real world. We generated robust data that provides strong support for what was only suspected before, and ruled out several alternative hypotheses that could have had very different implications. Still, as I struggled to make some management-oriented conclusions from the results, I couldn’t help but try to think of cases where weed biology had a direct and obvious link to improved management actions or strategies, and hope that the results of some other biology-oriented projects I’ve started are more like that. The sort of case where a grower or weed manager could point to a specific new detail of weed biology as reason to adopt or change a specific management action, and realize better control of the weed in question as a result. I’m excluding herbicide efficacy results from ‘basic biology’ research here. Facts like ‘95% of cheatgrass seeds survive only 1 to 2 years in the soil’, or ‘Russian-thistle seed doesn’t mature and become viable before mid-August at the earliest in eastern Washington’ are the sort of things I’m thinking of, and form the basis of two of the best examples of management actions suggested (or, at least whose effectiveness is explained by), knowledge of weed biology.
As a scientist, I certainly have a particular perspective on this, however, and I am curious what growers, agronomists, and other non-academics directly managing weeds think. Are there examples of weed biology research that you found particularly useful to inform improvements in your weed management programs? If so, please share them in the comments. Weed scientists, feel free to join in as well.