The environment in which a plant grows (maternal environment) can affect seed viability, germination, and dormancy. We assessed the effects of maternal environment on wild oat seed viability, germination, dormancy, and pathogen infection by collecting and analyzing wild oat seed from above and below a barley canopy at three field sites in Montana. The viability of wild oat seed collected below a crop canopy was consistently less than it was for seed from the overstory but varied among sites and years. Reductions in viability because of relative canopy position ranged from 10% to 30%. Effects of position relative to crop canopy on weed seed germination/dormancy rates varied by site and suggest that the direction and magnitude of the effects of maternal environment on dormancy depend on environmental conditions. These effects may be driven by crop competition or by changes in seed pathogen pressure or both. Seven species each of fungi and bacteria were isolated from wild oat seeds. The only fungi causing reductions in seed viability (15%) was isolated from understory seeds, and several bacteria from both overstory and understory sources reduced seed germination. Results suggest that, in addition to the known weed-suppressive effects of using taller or earlier emerging varieties of crops, such crops can reduce weed spread through effects on weed seed demography because weeds growing beneath the crop canopy produce a reduced amount of viable seed that is less likely to germinate in the following year.
Nomenclature: Wild oat, Avena fatua L. AVEFA, barley, Hordeum vulgare L.