Weed seed persistence in the soil seedbank is central to weed population dynamics; however, limited knowledge of mechanisms regulating seed survival in soil remains an obstacle to developing seed-bank management practices. Weed seeds are rich in carbon and nitrogen, and therefore may represent an important nutritional resource to soil microbes. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that weed seed mortality due to microbial predation is limited by soil inorganic N availability and soil C:N ratio. A factorial of N fertilizer rate (0, 14, and 28 mg N kg soil−1) and corn stover addition rate (0 and 3,000 mg stover kg soil−1) was applied to bioassay units containing Illinois field soil (silt loam, 3.8% organic carbon) and seeds of one of eight annual weed species common to Illinois field crops: giant foxtail, green foxtail, yellow foxtail, wooly cupgrass, giant ragweed, redroot pigweed, velvetleaf, and Venice mallow. Seeds were incubated for 2 mo, after which they were recovered from the soil and tested for viability. Only three of the eight species, velvetleaf, giant ragweed, and wooly cupgrass, responded to the experimental treatments. Velvetleaf seed mortality was 40% lower in the corn stover–amended treatment than in the unamended treatment. Both giant ragweed and wooly cupgrass showed a more complex interaction between N fertilizer and corn stover treatments. Path analysis supported the hypothesis that the influence of soil N on seed mortality in velvetleaf was because of the direct effect of soil N on microbial predation of velvetleaf seeds, whereas for giant ragweed and wooly cupgrass, the effect on seed mortality appeared to be mediated through soil N effects on germination. Mechanisms underlying soil N fertility effects on weed seed mortality appear to be species-specific. Future investigations of this phenomenon should include quantitative measures of seed coat composition and quality.
Nomenclature: Giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm. SETFA giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida L. AMBTR green foxtail, Setaria viridis (L.) Beauv. SETVI redroot pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus L. AMARE velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti Medik. ABUTH Venice mallow, Hibiscus trionum L. HIBTR wooly cupgrass, Eriochloa villosa (Thunb.) Kunth ERIVI yellow foxtail, Setaria glauca (L.) Beauv. SETLU.