Ecological risk assessment of transgenic pasture plants: a community gradient modelling approach




The extension of transgene technology to pasture species presents new challenges for ecological risk assessment because, unlike most crops, pasture plants are well adapted for persistence in mixed plant communities and are an important source of invasive species worldwide. Despite this, the impact of transgenic pasture plants on native ecosystems remains relatively unstudied. Here we use a community gradient modelling approach to investigate the performance of subterranean clover containing a nutrition-enhancing transgene over a range of ecologically important grassland communities at a study site in south-eastern Australia. Our data, which were collected over a full annual growing season, show that the transgenic clover line has different seedling survival and seed dormancy breakdown rates than the commercial non-transgenic line, which suggests that transgenic populations will decline faster than non-transgenic ones in perennial native grassland communities but could, under optimal climatic conditions, have potentially higher growth rates in grazed annual grasslands. These results demonstrate that changes to ecologically important demographic parameters can occur in plants containing transgenes that are not typically considered fitness enhancing, and that genotype by environment interactions and management regimes that impact on these parameters may influence the invasiveness of transgenic plants. Our study also demonstrates the utility of incorporating plant community gradient modelling into ecological risk assessment protocols designed for transgenic pasture plants.