A comparison of the herbicide tolerances of rare and common plants in an agricultural landscape

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Mar;33(3):696-702. doi: 10.1002/etc.2491. Epub 2014 Jan 31.


Declining plant biodiversity in agroecosystems has often been attributed to escalating use of chemical herbicides, but other changes in farming systems, including the clearing of seminatural habitat fragments, confound the influence of herbicides. The present study introduces a new approach to evaluate the impacts of herbicide pollution on plant communities at landscape or regional scales. If herbicides are in fact a key factor shaping agricultural plant diversity, one would expect to see the signal of past herbicide impacts in the current plant community composition of an intensively farmed region, with common, successful species more tolerant to widely used herbicides than rare or declining species. Data from an extensive field survey of plant diversity in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, USA, were compared with herbicide bioassay experiments in a greenhouse to test the hypothesis that common species possess higher herbicide tolerances than rare species. Five congeneric pairs of rare and common species were treated with 3 commonly used herbicide modes of action in bioassay experiments, and few significant differences were found in the tolerances of rare species relative to common species. These preliminary results suggest that other factors beyond herbicide exposure may be more important in shaping the distribution and abundance of plant species diversity across an agricultural landscape.

Keywords: Agricultural intensification; Bioassay; Herbicide drift; Herbicides; Plant biodiversity.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Herbicides / toxicity*
  • Pennsylvania
  • Plants / drug effects*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Herbicides