The role of weed biomass in the nutrient balance of agro-ecosystems remains poorly understood. To measure the rate of decomposition and nutrient release of common weeds, litterbag methodology was employed using waterhemp and giant foxtail desiccated by glyphosate at heights of 10, 20, 30, and 45 cm in two southern Illinois soybean fields. Losses were then expressed as a decay constant (k) regressed over time according to the single exponential decay model. Concentrations of the recalcitrant cell wall components (cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin) were generally greatest as weed height (maturity) increased in giant foxtail compared with waterhemp. Sixteen weeks after desiccation by glyphosate, 10-cm waterhemp and giant foxtail detritus had lost 10 and 12% more mass, respectively, compared to the 45-cm height of each species. Decomposition rates revealed mass loss was highest for 10-cm waterhemp (kD = 0.022) and lowest for 45-cm giant foxtail (kD = 0.011) and this process was negatively correlated to the overall amount of cell wall constituents (r = −0.73). Nutrient release rates followed a similar trend in that both shorter (younger) weeds and waterhemp liberated nutrients more readily. Across all tested plant material, K was the nutrient most rapidly released, whereas, Ca was the most strongly retained nutrient.
Nomenclature: Glyphosate; common waterhemp, Amaranthus tuberculatus (Moq.) Sauer var. rudis (Sauer) Costea and Tardif AMATU; giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm. SETFA; Soybean, Glycine max (L.) Merr.