In a series of seed burial studies, we tested the hypothesis that reduced tillage and cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) cover cropping influence seed persistence and that these effects are mediated by differences in fungal pathogens and exposure to light. Seeds of Powell amaranth (Amaranthus powellii S. Watson) and large crabgrass [Digitaria sanguinalis (L). Scop.] were buried in mesh bags in a long-term experiment with two levels of tillage (full-width tillage [FWT] or strip tillage [ST]) and two levels of cover cropping (none or cereal rye). In Experiment 1, seeds were exhumed each spring for 3 yr and tested for viability. In Experiment 2, untreated and fungicide-treated seeds were buried, exhumed at shorter intervals, and tested for viability. In addition, a subset of seeds in FWT treatments were exhumed and stored in either light or darkness during tillage operations and evaluated for persistence at 8.5 mo after burial (MAB). In Experiment 1, the persistence of D. sanguinalis seeds declined by 80% at 7 MAB regardless of cover crop or tillage treatment. The persistence of A. powellii seeds at 19 MAB declined by 95% in FWT compared with only 50% in ST. In Experiment 2, seed persistence of both species was greater in ST compared with FWT treatments, for seeds that had been exposed to light, but not for those that were maintained in darkness. Rye cover cropping resulted in a 2-fold increase in overwinter persistence of seeds of D. sanguinalis regardless of fungicide treatment. These results demonstrate that increased persistence under ST was primarily due to reductions in light-induced fatal germination and that increased overwinter persistence of D. sanguinalis in rye cover crop treatments could not be explained by differences in decay due to fungal pathogens controlled by the seed treatment.
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Vol. 67 • No. 1