- •Gene flow is a primary determinant of potential ecological impacts of transgenic trees. However, gene flow is a complex process that must be assessed in the context of realistic genetic, management, and environmental conditions.
- •We measured gene flow from hybrid poplar plantations using morphological and genetic markers, and developed a spatially explicit landscape model to simulate pollination, dispersal, establishment, and mortality in the context of historical and projected disturbance and land-use regimes.
- •Most pollination and seed establishment occurred within 450 m of the source, with a very long tail. Modeled transgene flow was highly context-dependent, strongly influenced by the competitive effects of transgenes, transgenic fertility, plantation rotation length, disturbance regime, and spatial and temporal variation in selection. The use of linked infertility genes even if imperfect, substantially reduced transgene flow in a wide range of modeled scenarios. The significance of seed and vegetative dispersal was highly dependent on plantation size.
- •Our empirical and modeling studies suggest that transgene spread can be spatially extensive. However, the amount of spread is highly dependent on ecological and management context, and can be greatly limited or prevented by management or mitigation genes such as those that cause sexual infertility.