Environmental Management

, Volume 56, Issue 5, pp 1078–1090 | Cite as

Ecological Intensification Through Pesticide Reduction: Weed Control, Weed Biodiversity and Sustainability in Arable Farming

  • Sandrine PetitEmail author
  • Nicolas Munier-Jolain
  • Vincent Bretagnolle
  • Christian Bockstaller
  • Sabrina Gaba
  • Stéphane Cordeau
  • Martin Lechenet
  • Delphine Mézière
  • Nathalie Colbach


Amongst the biodiversity components of agriculture, weeds are an interesting model for exploring management options relying on the principle of ecological intensification in arable farming. Weeds can cause severe crop yield losses, contribute to farmland functional biodiversity and are strongly associated with the generic issue of pesticide use. In this paper, we address the impacts of herbicide reduction following a causal framework starting with herbicide reduction and triggering changes in (i) the management options required to control weeds, (ii) the weed communities and functions they provide and (iii) the overall performance and sustainability of the implemented land management options. The three components of this framework were analysed in a multidisciplinary project that was conducted on 55 experimental and farmer’s fields that included conventional, integrated and organic cropping systems. Our results indicate that the reduction of herbicide use is not antagonistic with crop production, provided that alternative practices are put into place. Herbicide reduction and associated land management modified the composition of in-field weed communities and thus the functions of weeds related to biodiversity and production. Through a long-term simulation of weed communities based on alternative (?) cropping systems, some specific management pathways were identified that delivered high biodiversity gains and limited the negative impacts of weeds on crop production. Finally, the multi-criteria assessment of the environmental, economic and societal sustainability of the 55 systems suggests that integrated weed management systems fared better than their conventional and organic counterparts. These outcomes suggest that sustainable management could possibly be achieved through changes in weed management, along a pathway starting with herbicide reduction.


Agroecology Cropping system Herbicide Indicators Crop production Biotic interactions 



We thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper. The ANR project Advherb STRA-08-02 ‘Agroecological management of arable weeds’ was funded by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche. Delphine Mézière and Martin Lechenet were funded by the project. We are very grateful to all the farmers who have contributed to the project, as well as to Marie-Sophie Petit and all the other persons that were involved in the work that was conducted in the different experimental farms in Burgundy.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandrine Petit
    • 1
    Email author
  • Nicolas Munier-Jolain
    • 1
  • Vincent Bretagnolle
    • 2
    • 3
  • Christian Bockstaller
    • 4
  • Sabrina Gaba
    • 1
  • Stéphane Cordeau
    • 1
  • Martin Lechenet
    • 1
  • Delphine Mézière
    • 1
  • Nathalie Colbach
    • 1
  1. 1.INRA, UMR1347 AgroécologieDijonFrance
  2. 2.Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UMR 7372, CNRS – Université de La RochelleVilliers-en-BoisFrance
  3. 3.LTER «Zone Atelier Plaine & Val de Sèvre», Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRSVilliers-en-BoisFrance
  4. 4.INRA, UMR1121ColmarFrance

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