The advent of site-specific weed management has generated research aimed at predicting weed spatial distributions from existing weed maps or correlations with soil properties and edaphic factors. Forecasting the spatial distribution of annual weeds requires knowledge of fecundity, dispersal, management, and suitable habitat distribution. We hypothesized that wild oat habitat was limited by field-scale heterogeneity in plant-available water. We eliminated seed number and dispersal limitations by seeding wild oat in areas with and without historical wild oat patches in three similarly managed spring wheat fields that differed in soil properties and wild oat infestations and were situated within a 160-km radius of Great Falls, MT. Wild oat habitat was quantified by wild oat leaf area growth rate, mature shoot biomass, seeds produced per plant, biomass water use efficiency, and competitive ratio with spring wheat. Soil texture and plot elevation correlated with existing wild oat patch areas in individual fields, but no site properties consistently correlated with wild oat patch areas in all three fields. Soil water use (SWU) and almost all habitat-defining variables for wild oat were similar between historic patch and nonpatch areas. Wild oat grew and produced seed regardless of existing patch boundaries and field-scale heterogeneity in SWU. This research suggested that (1) wild oat habitat may be unlimited in cereal grain cropping systems of the Northern Great Plains and (2) soil properties are a poor predictor of weed distribution for a generalist such as wild oat.
Nomenclature: Wild oat, Avena fatua L. AVEFA; spring wheat, Triticum aestivum L.