Farmers and GM crops should both impact farmland birds, Science study predicts

This news release is also available in French.

The use of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops may severely reduce bird populations on a small percentage of farms, while having little effect on most others, predicts a new study in the 1 September issue of the international journal, Science. Overall, the consequences should depend upon which farmers adopt the new crop types, the study's authors conclude.

The possible effects of GMHT crops on wildlife in the countryside has been the subject of ongoing debate, and the British Government has introduced a moratorium on the use of these crops until the issue is resolved.

Lead Science author Andrew Watkinson, from the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and his colleagues have created a model that simulates the growth of weed populations within crops. Using the model, the team investigated the consequences of the changed herbicide use likely to be associated with GMHT crops. The results showed that weed seed populations can be expected to decline by at least 90% in some cases.

An important part of the study links the decline in weed numbers to bird numbers, predicting that such a decline in seed abundance should seriously reduce the numbers of skylarks using these fields.

The controversial field trials currently underway in the United Kingdom are intended to investigate the consequences of GMHT crops for biodiversity.

"The field trials will be very valuable, but will not tell us what will happen to bird populations. They are carried out on too small a scale. One considerable advantage of the methodology we have adopted is that it enables us to make predictions now rather than having to wait for the results of a three year trial," Watkinson said.

Several decades of intensified agriculture in Europe have had a particularly serious effect on birds, w

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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