It has been proposed that cropping systems can be managed to promote the development of soil microbial communities that accelerate weed seed mortality. We examined soil fungal and bacterial communities, soil C:N ratio, soil particle size fractions, and weed seed mortality in soil from fields with over 10 yr of five contrasting management histories with the objective of determining if seed mortality could be explained by differences in soil properties. Seed mortality of giant foxtail and velvetleaf were greatest in soil from the conventionally managed systems and lowest in soil from a reduced input system. Principal-components analysis of soil microbial communities, as determined through denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis of polymerase chain reaction–amplified ribosomal RNA genes (PCR-DGGE), showed distinct differences in the composition of fungal and bacterial communities among the study soils. The first principal component of the 18S rDNA PCR-DGGE analysis of fungal community composition showed a strong negative correlation with both giant foxtail (− 0.52, P < 0.05) and velvetleaf (− 0.57, P < 0.01) seed mortality, as did ordination with nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMS) [giant foxtail (− 0.54, P < 0.01) and velvetleaf (− 0.60, P < 0.01)], suggesting that seeds of the two species were affected similarly by changes in the soil fungal community. For giant foxtail, weed seed mortality was also positively correlated (r = 0.48, P < 0.05) with the first NMS axis of the bacterial 16S rDNA analysis. None of the other measured soil properties were significantly correlated with weed seed mortality. Thus, for the soils tested here, management history, microbial community composition, and weed seed mortality were linked. To extend these results to the field, more work is needed to identify components of the fungal and bacterial communities that are active in seed degradation, and to develop conservation biocontrol recommendations for these species.
Nomenclature: Giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm., SETFA; velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti Medik., ABUTH.