Don’t judge toxic weeds on whether they are native but on their ecological effects

Zhenchao Zhang, Jian Sun, Miao Liu, Ming Xu, Yi Wang, Gao lin Wu, Huakun Zhou, Chongchong Ye, Dorji Tsechoe, Tianxing Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The sharp rise in anthropogenic activities and climate change has caused the extensive degradation of grasslands worldwide, jeopardizing ecosystem function, and threatening human well-being. Toxic weeds have been constantly spreading in recent decades; indeed, their occurrence is considered to provide an early sign of land degeneration. Policymakers and scientific researchers often focus on the negative effects of toxic weeds, such as how they inhibit forage growth, kill livestock, and cause economic losses. However, toxic weeds can have several potentially positive ecological impacts on grasslands, such as promoting soil and water conservation, improving nutrient cycling and biodiversity conservation, and protecting pastures from excessive damage by livestock. We reviewed the literature to detail the adaptive mechanisms underlying toxic weeds and to provide new insight into their roles in degraded grassland ecosystems. The findings highlight that the establishment of toxic weeds may provide a self-protective strategy of degenerated pastures that do not require special interventions. Consequently, policymakers, managers, and other personnel responsible for managing grasslands need to take appropriate actions to assess the long-term trade-offs between the development of animal husbandry and the maintenance of ecological services provided by grasslands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9014-9025
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


  • adaptive strategy
  • degraded grassland
  • ecological function
  • grassland management
  • toxic weed


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