A functional diversity approach of crop sequences reveals that weed diversity and abundance show different responses to environmental variability.
Combining several crop species and associated agricultural practices in a crop sequence has the potential to control weed abundance while promoting weed diversity in arable fields. However, how the variability in environmental conditions that arise from crop sequences affects weed diversity and abundance remains poorly understood, with most studies to-date simply opposing weed communities in monoculture and in crop rotation. Here, we describe crop sequences along gradients of disturbance and resource variability using a crop functional trait and associated agricultural practices. We tested the hypothesis that in disturbances reduces weed abundance, whereas variability in resources promotes weed diversity. We used functional Hill's numbers to compute crop sequence functional diversity based on sowing date, herbicide spectrum and crop height-these are the respective proxies of disturbance timings, disturbance types and light availability. Using a large-scale weed monitoring database, we assessed crop sequence diversity for 1,045 crop sequences of five consecutive cropping seasons. We computed weed richness and abundance at pluri-annual (pool of weeds observed across five cropping seasons) and annual (pool of weeds observed during a winter cereal cropping season preceded by five cropping seasons) scales. We also accounted for herbicide and tillage intensities to test whether management intensity affects the response of weed diversity and abundance to crop sequence diversity. At the pluri-annual scale, weed richness increased with the diversity of crop height and sowing date, whereas weed abundance decreased with sowing date diversity. Annual weed richness decreased with sowing date diversity, whereas annual weed abundance poorly relied on crop sequence diversity. Synthesis and applications This study establishes a scientific basis for designing crop sequences according to specific weed management goals. We show that farmers may enhance arable weed diversity on a pluri-annual scale by sequentially sowing crop species that differ in their competitive ability and sowing date. They may also achieve a better control of weed abundance by increasing the diversity of crop sowing dates across the crop sequence.