evolution in fast forward. Given the predominance of using herbicides to control weeds, to the exclusion of other more diverse tactics and strategies, the production of crops has become simplified and places an incredible selection pressure on the weed populations that exist within the crop production systems. Essentially, agriculture is very quickly selecting for the pests that are best adapted to the tactics and strategies used to control them.

Specific weeds with evolved resistances to many herbicide mechanisms of action are becoming increasingly important. While there are several extremely important weed species that have evolved resistance to herbicides, common waterhemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus syn. rudis) is of particular note, given its widespread presence in the Midwest United States. Common waterhemp exhibits a number of characteristics that make it particularly “weedy”; these characteristics include but are not limited to a dioecious reproductive habit (obligate outcrossing), high seed productivity, opportunistic germination, and the demonstrable ability to evolve resistance to herbicides. Common waterhemp populations have evolved resistance to triazine herbicides, the ALS-inhibitor herbicides, the protoporphyrinogen oxidase (PPO)-inhibitor herbicides, the hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (HPPD)-inhibitor herbicides, the growth-regulator herbicides, and glyphosate. There are specific populations of common waterhemp that have evolved multiple resistances to as many as five different herbicide mechanisms of action. Given that, to date, most of the evolved herbicide resistances are dominant traits; these evolved traits will spread quickly. The speed is enhanced by a failure of those involved in agriculture to adopt alternative strategies for the management of weeds.

In the opinion of the author, it is clear that, thus far, agriculture is not accepting the importance of herbicide resistance nor willing to react to the need for changes in weed-management tactics and strategies. There continue to be disconnects between the long-term perspectives of herbicide-resistant weeds and the short-term concerns about profitability for agricultural producers as well as within agricultural chemical companies. There are also important questions about whether herbicide resistance can and should be regulated. However, there should be no question about whether herbicide resistance should be managed. Evolved resistance to herbicides in important weed species will continue to be an increasing problem that changes at an increasing rate unless stewardship is implemented in all crop-production systems immediately.



The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement