Impact of Herbicides on Soil Biology and Function

Michael T. Rose, Timothy R. Cavagnaro, Craig A. Scanlan, Terry J. Rose, Tony Vancov, Stephen Kimber, Ivan R. Kennedy, Rai S. Kookana, Lukas Van Zwieten

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

106 Citations (Scopus)


There is a growing awareness among farmers about the importance of soil for sustaining crop production and providing beneficial ecosystem services. Over the last 2 decades, global herbicide use has increased as farmers have shifted to more sustainable conservation tillage practices and have adopted herbicide-tolerant crop cultivars. The implications of increased herbicide use for soil biology are being questioned, but a comprehensive review on this topic is lacking. In this chapter we outline the chemistry and use of the major herbicide classes, and review the soil functions relevant to crop production. We then collate and critically evaluate the evidence for herbicide effects on soil biota and activity. In general, most studies suggest that the impacts of herbicide application on soil function are only minor and/or temporary. However, there are some instances where findings consistently suggest effects that could significantly alter soil function. These include disruptions to earthworm ecology in soils exposed to glyphosate and atrazine; inhibition of soil N-cycling (including biological N2-fixation, mineralization and nitrification) by sulfonylurea herbicides in alkaline or low organic matter soils; and site-specific increases in disease resulting from the application of a variety of herbicides. Issues with extrapolating these findings to broadacre farming include the lack of a consistent framework for assessing herbicide risk to soil biology, the relevance of the magnitude of herbicide impacts compared with the impacts of other soil management practices such as tillage or crop rotation, the complexity of herbicide formulations and mixtures, and the limited number of long-term field studies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Agronomy, 2016
EditorsDonald L. Sparks
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages88
ISBN (Print)9780128046814
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameAdvances in Agronomy
ISSN (Print)0065-2113


  • Agrochemical
  • Bacteria
  • Crop production
  • Fungi
  • Nematode
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Pesticide
  • Plant disease
  • Soil health


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