The demography of feral alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) populations occurring in roadside habitats in Southern Manitoba, Canada: implications for novel trait confinement
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Feral populations of cultivated crops can act as reservoirs for novel genetically engineered (GE) traits and aid in trait movement at the landscape level. However, little information is available on the potential of cultivated crops to become feral. In this study, we investigated the ferality of alfalfa populations (non-GE version) occurring in roadside habitats. Knowledge on the nature of roadside alfalfa populations would be useful for designing efficient trait confinement protocols and coexistence strategies in alfalfa.
We investigated roadside alfalfa populations from 2006 to 2009 in three rural municipalities (Hanover, MacDonald, and Springfield) in Southern Manitoba, Canada. We studied the demography of these populations including seedbank, seedling recruitment, and fecundity and examined the impact of road verge mowing on key life stages of these populations. We also compared the growth and reproductive attributes of roadside and cultivated alfalfa populations.
Alfalfa is reproductively successful in roadside habitats and capable of establishing self-perpetuating populations. A substantial portion of the alfalfa seeds we extracted from seedbank samples were viable but not germinable, suggesting some degree of seedbank persistence in roadside habitats. In the roadside habitat, alfalfa seedlings recruited successfully, however, seedling mortality was high when seedlings were in close proximity to well-established alfalfa plants. Mowing dramatically reduced the reproductive success of roadside alfalfa. Generally, the growth and reproduction of roadside alfalfa was comparable to cultivated alfalfa except for total fecundity.
Considering the long lifespan (>10 years) of alfalfa and the levels of fecundity, seedbank, and seedling survival we observed, long-term persistence of roadside alfalfa populations seems reasonable. In the context of novel trait confinement, our results suggest that feral alfalfa populations required to be managed if there is a desire/need to confine novel traits in alfalfa.
KeywordsCoexistence Demography Ferality Gene flow GE alfalfa Trait confinement
The authors are grateful for funding from the Agri-Food Research and Development Initiative (ARDI) of the governments of Manitoba and Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the Scottish government (work package 1.7 Sustainable Crop Systems), and a University of Manitoba Graduate Fellowship and Manitoba Graduate Scholarship for M. Bagavathiannan.
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