Understanding the mechanisms of community assembly may provide evidence to improve crop manage- ment, and in particular how weeds impact on crop yields. Focussing on plant functional traits and their diversity, we analysed a crop–weed interaction study with different levels of weed species and barley cultivar diversity to assess how weed species and barley cultivars respond to competition. Pre-emption of light resources by the taller barley did not impact on the weeds, with both weeds and barley showing similar order of magnitude shifts in height, specific leaf area and leaf dry matter content in response to crop–weed competition. These shifts were to a more conservative growth pattern, and suggest in this study a greater importance of below- than above-ground interactions in driving trait responses. The mixture of barley cultivars shifted the weeds to a more conservative growth pattern compared to the cultivar monocultures. The results indicate that cultivar mixtures could result in less need for weed control in arable fields, and possibly that the development of complementary cultivar mixtures could reinforce this effect. This confirms the results of other studies which show that mixtures either improve yields or make yields less variable in response to weed competition.