Modelling seedling growth rates of 18 temperate arable weed species as a function of the environment and plant traits
Background and Aims: The early growth rate of seedlings in the exponential phase is an important ecophysiological trait in crop/weed competition models based on assessments of relative weed green area. An understanding of the role of various plant traits in determining early growth rate may also be useful for identifying contrasting weed strategies for establishment before canopy closure. Methods: The response of seedling relative growth rate (RGR) to the environment was measured in outdoor sand beds in the autumn and the spring for 18 temperate annual weed species and two crops. Seedling growth was modelled using thermal time and effective day-degrees (combining the effect of temperature and radiation). The contribution of various plant traits in determining variability in RGR was investigated using regression analysis. Key Results: The effective day-degree model was more effective for describing early weed growth than thermal time. Variability in RGR measured in the autumn was largely determined by differences between the species in net assimilation rate (NAR), whereas in the spring leaf area ratio (L4R) played a larger part. There were differences between the broadleaf and grass species in the relative contribution of NAR and LAR to RGR in both seasons. RGR in the spring was negatively correlated with initial seedling size. Conclusions: The parameters derived in this study can be used to calibrate empirical models of crop yield loss based on relative weed green area to different growing seasons and assessment dates. The grass weeds, which tended to have large seeds, had a higher investment in roots in the seedling stage, potentially making them more competitive later in the season when resources become limiting. (C) 2004 Annals of Botany Company.