Cover crops represent a potentially important biological filter during weed community assembly in agroecosystems. This filtering could be considered directional if different cover-crop species result in weed communities with predictably different species composition. We examined the following four questions related to the potential filtering effects of cover crops in a field experiment involving five cover crops grown in monoculture and mixture: (1) Do cover crops differ in their effect on weed community composition? (2) Is competition more intense between cover crops and weeds that are in the same family or functional group? (3) Is competition more intense across weed functional types in a cover-crop mixture compared with cover crops grown in monocultures? (4) Within a cover-crop mixture, is a higher seeding rate associated with more effective biotic filtering of the weed community? We found some evidence that cover crops differentially filtered weed communities and that at least some of these filtering effects were due to differential biomass production across cover-crop species. Monocultures of buckwheat and sorghum–sudangrass reduced the number of weed species relative to the no-cover-crop control by an average of 36 and 59% (buckwheat) and 25 and 40% (sorghum–sudangrass) in 2011 and 2012, respectively. We found little evidence that competition intensity was dependent upon the family or functional classification of the cover crop or weeds, or that cover-crop mixtures were stronger assembly filters than the most effective monocultures. Although our results do not suggest that annual cover crops exert strong directional filtering during weed community assembly, our methodological framework for detecting such effects could be applied to similar future studies that incorporate a greater number of cover-crop species and are conducted under a greater range of cover-cropping conditions.
Nomenclature: Buckwheat, Fagopyrum esculentum Moench; cereal rye, Secale cereal L.; field pea, Pisum sativum L.; hairy vetch, Vicia villosa Roth; mustard, Brassica juncea (L.) Czern.; sorghum–sudangrass, Sorghum bicolor × S. bicolor var. sudanese.