An introduction to the Farm-Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops

Authors


Les Firbank, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Merlewood, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6JU, UK (fax +44 15395 34705; e-mail lgf@ceh.ac.uk).

Summary

  • 1Several genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops have cleared most of the regulatory hurdles required for commercial growing in the United Kingdom. However, concerns have been expressed that their management will have negative impacts on farmland biodiversity as a result of improved control given by the new herbicide regimes of the arable plants that support farmland birds and other species of conservation value.
  • 2The Farm-Scale Evaluations (FSE) project is testing the null hypothesis that there is no difference between the management of GMHT varieties of beet, oilseed rape and maize and that of comparable conventional varieties in their effect on the abundance and diversity of arable plants and invertebrates. The FSE also aims to estimate the magnitude and consider the implications of any differences that are found.
  • 3The experimental design of the FSE is a randomized block, with two treatments allocated at random to half-fields. The target sample is around 60–75 fields for each crop, selected to represent variation of geography and intensity of management across Britain. The experimental crops are managed by commercial farmers as if under commercial conditions.
  • 4Biodiversity indicators have been selected from plants and terrestrial invertebrates to identify differences between crop management regimes that may result in important ecological changes over larger scales of space and time. Field sampling is at fixed points, mainly along transects from the field boundary, starting before the crop is sown and continuing into following crops.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. The FSE is best considered as an investigation into the effects of contrasting crop management regimes on farmland biodiversity, rather than a study of the effects of genetic modification. It could become a model for future studies of ecological effects of the way we use and manage agricultural land.

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