Synthetic seed banks are a useful tool for tracking how weed populations change over time. By sowing a known number of seeds of a given species within a quadrat with defined boundaries, an investigator can measure the number remaining and thereby calculate demographic rates (e.g., mortality). The alternative is to use in situ seeds and estimate their initial population density via sampling. To make a synthetic seed bank approach useful within an agricultural system subjected to soil disturbances such as tillage, one would need a way to account for seeds leaving the initial quadrat (i.e., a way to follow how the area encompassing the sown seeds changes over time). Without accounting for the change in location/extent of the synthetic seed bank, any field operation moving soil will create additional uncertainty in population size. Depending on the “aggressiveness” of specific field operations and the initial size of the quadrat, this effect might be negligible or so large as to be intractable. Here, we describe a method for following a synthetic seed bank over time using a “living boundary” of nondormant seeds, which effectively play the role of tracers used in the study of dynamics in other scientific disciplines. Study quadrats in East Lansing, MI, and Arlington, WI, were sown with giant foxtail and velvetleaf at a rate of 2,000 seeds m−2. The study quadrats were marked on the perimeter and diagonals using nondormant seeds of three marker species: kale, radish, and rye. The areas were then subjected to tillage and planting operations. Spatial coordinates of seedling locations for the marker and weed species were obtained through digital image processing. A nonparametric comparison of the spatial displacement of marker and weed species indicated that their empirical spatial distributions did not differ. The marker species quadrats described by the 50th, 90th, and 99th quantiles of movement contained all velvetleaf seedlings in Wisconsin, all velvetleaf seedlings in Michigan, and all giant foxtail seedlings in Michigan, respectively. The results suggest a simple rule for applying the method to field demography studies: after the original quadrat is deformed and seedlings have emerged, flag the polygon containing all marker seedlings to obtain the expanded quadrat containing the study weed population.
Nomenclature: Giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm.; velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti Medik.; kale, Brassica oleracea L.; radish, Raphanus sativus L.; rye, Secale cereale L