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Setup, efforts and practical experiences of a monitoring program for genetically modified plants - an Austrian case study for oilseed rape and maize

Kathrin Pascher12*, Dietmar Moser3, Stefan Dullinger13, Leopold Sachslehner4, Patrick Gros5, Norbert Sauberer3, Andreas Traxler6, Georg Grabherr1 and Thomas Frank2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Vienna, Department of Conservation Biology, Vegetation Ecology and Landscape Ecology (CVL), Rennweg 14, A-1030 Vienna, Austria

2 University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Institute of Zoology, Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33, A-1180 Vienna, Austria

3 Vienna Institute for Nature Conservation & Analyses (VINCA), Giessergasse 6/7, A-1090 Vienna, Austria

4 Büro für Naturschutzpraxis und Forschung, An der Scheibenwiese 1/1/2, A-1160 Vienna, Austria

5 Salzburg Biodiversity Centre, Museum House of Nature, Museumsplatz 5, A-5020 Salzburg, Austria

6 Office BIOME, Lorenz Steinergasse 6, A-2201 Gerasdorf, Austria

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Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:12  doi:10.1186/2190-4715-23-12

Published: 14 March 2011

Abstract

Background, aim and scope

According to the Directive 2001/18/EC, genetically modified plants [GMPs] have to be monitored for unintended ecological impacts during their release. Detrimental effects on the biodiversity of agro-ecosystems represent a prime focus of such a monitoring. Although cropping of GMPs has already been permitted in the European Union, the establishment of appropriate monitoring networks lags behind. Here, we provide an overview on Biodiversity-Nature-Safety [BINATS], one of the first national monitoring programs specifically designed and implemented to accompany and survey GMP effects on the biodiversity of agricultural landscapes.

Materials and methods

BINATS was implemented on 100 test areas (625 m × 625 m) which were selected based on a stratified random sampling design from all across the Austrian agricultural landscape with a focus on maize and oilseed rape cultivation. For each test area, the distribution of different habitat structures was mapped, and the species number of vascular plants, the species number and abundance of butterflies and grasshoppers, as well as the abundance of potential hybridisation partners of oilseed rape were recorded on ten randomly distributed sampling sites (circles, radius 20 m).

Results and conclusions

Implementing BINATS resulted in a consistent database of the biodiversity and habitat configuration across parts of the Austrian agricultural landscapes. These data provide a baseline against which future biodiversity trends and their relationship with eventual GMP cropping can be evaluated. Moreover, they serve for assessing site-specific biodiversity-related risks of GMP cropping even in advance of their release. Finally, the first monitoring cycle (2007 and 2008) revealed insights into both the significance and the limits of such a monitoring program and allowed for a realistic calculation of the associated costs.

Recommendations and perspectives

Regular reassessments of the BINATS network will provide valuable insights into the change of biodiversity in Austrian agricultural landscapes and their potential drivers. BINATS was specifically designed to collect such information at comparatively low costs. However, the BINATS approach is flexible enough to include additional indicators or monitoring objects to take account for future insights into their particular relevance in a GMP cropping context. The results obtained from the first BINATS cycle could not yet be correlated with GMP impacts since GMPs have not been commercially released in Austria so far. In this aspect, BINATS still needs to prove its suitability to relate biodiversity changes to GMP cropping. But it is intended to repeat the survey of the BINATS data in regular reassessments to improve our knowledge about the general biodiversity trends in agricultural landscapes free of GMP cropping. These baseline data should help to relate GMP-specific effects on biodiversity in future.