Nick Birch

Sustainable Systems

The biological mechanisms that drive primary production and other ecological functions should not be compromised: a balance must be kept between what is removed from the field for subsistence and profit and what is left to support the system’s essential life forms. We are attempting to define the bounds and conditions in which these life forms can operate so as to ensure the system’s long term health and resilience.   

.. a habit of mind in harmony with reason and the order of nature ..

Cicero, MT. De Inventione

GMO ERA Project

Picture of cotton being pickedIn  agricultural and natural environments, GM crops and their transgene products will come into contact with hundreds of non-target species that have important ecological functions.

The GMO ERA Project is a pioneering initiative driven by public sector scientists from many countries to develop tools to support environmental risk assessment (ERA) of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The aim is to give decision makers the tools and training to help them decide what information and data are most important and appropriate for an ERA that is tailored to the GM crop and agricultural system in their country and region.

To date the project has examined case studies on Bt maize in Kenya, Bt cotton in Brazil and Bt cotton in Vietnam. The project is supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, IOBC Global, national ministries and several other funders. A steering committee for Phase I and II of the project were responsible for making key decisions.

Agroecology News Archive

Ecological roles of weeds In an invited plenary talk, Geoff Squire represented the group's ideas on the roles of weeds at the XIII Colloque International sur la Biologie des Mauvaises Herbes held at Dijon, France 8-10 September 2009. The main points of the talk were: weeds have been with us in northern Europe for more than 5000 years - we haven't got rid of them; so we need to understand them better, spend less trying to remove them and make use of their positive roles in the ecosystem. Arable cropping in Scotland is already some way towards coexisting with weeds: its cereal yields and weed seedbanks are both among the highest in the UK!  (Added 14 September 2009)

Publications archive

Refereed publications and major reports from the Agroecology group

Newton, A.C., Begg, G.S., Swanston, J.S. 2008. Deployment of diversity for enhanced crop function. Annals of Applied Biology (doi:10.1111/j.1744-7348.2008.00303.x).

Monocultures are used in high-input systems to maximise short term profitability, but over time yield and quality can become unstable. This paper considers how diversity can be reintroduced to cropping systems to confer stability without compromising quality. It combines expertise between three of SCRI's programmes: Pathology (ACN), Genetics (JSS) and Environment (GSB).

Squire, G.R., Hawes, C., Begg, G.S., Young, M.W. 2009. Cumulative impact of GM herbicide-tolerant cropping on arable plants assessed through species-based and functional taxonomies. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 16(1), 85-94. Published online 2 December 2008 (doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0072-6).

Ecological biosafety and gene flow

Image of Laying out field experiment in the Carse of GowrieThe agroecology group at SCRI continues to make major contributions through research and extension to questions on GM crops. We examine their potential roles in cropping systems, their positive and negative environmental effects, the movement of genetic material through pollen and seed and the  means by which GM and other crops might coexist in European agriculture. We combine knowledge of biology, modelling and molecular science to answer some of the most important topical questions in ecological biosafety. All our findings are made public. Members of the group are regularly invited to advise national and international commissions in biosafety and to develop training methods for environmental risk assessment.

Environment Plant Interactions

Image of the SCRI site looking towards the River TaySCRI's environmental science research spans across disciplines to gain a holistic understanding of how plants respond to and modify environmental processes. Scottish Government commissioned research is gaining an in-depth understanding of the environment in arable farming systems and this is being used to advise on policy development in Scotland. These skills have also been applied to emerging issues relevant to the UK and Europe, including the UK’s Farm Scale Evaluations, international working groups, IPDM-based alternatives to pesicides and EU-wide studies on the ecological impacts of GM plants.

The environment and the ecology of plants and pests are our key research areas, investigated by a strong multidisciplinary team of scientists in entomology, pathology, plant sciences, vegetation ecology, phytochemistry, mathematical modelling and soil sciences. A major area of interest is integrating processes that occur above ground and in the soil. Research conducted on plant interactions with soil has extended from the understanding of sustainable arable systems to ‘green’ engineering solutions for slope stabilisation with vegetation.

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