Recent studies have suggested that soybeans express shade avoidance in response to low red : far-red (R : FR) light reflected from neighboring plants and that this response may determine the onset and outcome of crop–weed competition. We tested the hypothesis that the low R : FR ratio would trigger characteristic shade avoidance responses in soybean and that the subsequent phenotype would experience reproductive costs under non–resource-limiting conditions. Soybeans were grown in a fertigation system in field trials conducted in 2007 and 2008 under two light quality treatments: (1) high R : FR ratio (i.e., weed-free) i.e., upward reflected light from a baked clay medium (Turface MVP®), or (2) low R : FR ratio (i.e., weedy) of upward reflected light, from commercial turfgrass. Results of this study indicated that a reduction in the R : FR ratio of light reflected from the surface of turfgrass increased soybean internode elongation, reduced branching, and decreased yield per plant. Shade avoidance also increased the plant-to-plant variability in biomass and yield per plant. Per plant yield losses were, however, more closely associated with reductions in biomass accumulation than population variability as the expression of a shade avoidance response did not influence harvest index. While these results suggest that weed induced shade avoidance decreases soybean per plant yield by reducing branching, it is possible the productivity of a soybean stand as a whole may be buffered against these reduction by a similar, but opposite, expression of plasticity in branching.
Nomenclature: Soybean, Glycine max (L.) Merr.