The Broadbalk long-term experiment at Rothamsted : what has it told us about weeds?
Cussans, John W.
The Broadbalk experiment was started in 1843 to investigate the relative importance of different plant nutrients (N, P, K, Na, Mg) on grain yield of winter wheat. Weeds were controlled initially by hand hoeing and fallowing, but since 1964, herbicides have been applied to the whole experiment with the exception of the 18 plots on Section 8. Approximately 130 weed species have been recorded on Broadbalk and about 30 of these are currently recorded annually on Section 8. Detailed weed surveys, conducted from 1930 to 1979, provide a unique 50-yr record, but the relatively small number of frequency categories used (six) poses a limitation on the interpretation of these data for ecological studies. Weed surveys were restarted in 1991 on Section 8. The current assessment method records the presence of individual 2 weed species in 25 random 0.1-m(2) quadrats per plot, which is more appropriate for detecting long-term trends in weed frequencies and population differences between plots. A principal components analysis of the 1991-2002 survey data for 15 species showed clearly the influence of inorganic N fertilizer levels on the frequency of individual species. The frequency of one species (common chickweed) was greatly favored by increasing amounts of nitrogen fertilizer from 0 to 288 kg N ha(-1), others were strongly disadvantaged (e.g., black medic and field horsetail), some were slightly disadvantaged (e.g., common vetch and parsley-piert), and some showed little response to differing N rates (e.g., blackgrass and corn poppy). Other weed investigations include studies on the effects of fallowing on the weed seed bank, seed dormancy and persistence, agroecology, and population dynamics of individual weed species. Recently, molecular approaches have been used to study the genetic diversity of weeds found on Section 8, which is one of the few arable sites in the country where herbicides have never been applied. This site also provides an invaluable reserve for seven nationally rare or uncommon species. Broadbalk continues to act as a valuable resource for weed investigations 160 yr after it was established.