The role of satellite image-processing for national-scale estimates of gene flow from genetically modified crops: rapeseed in the UK as a model.
There is concern over the possibility of unwanted environmental change following transgene movement from genetically modified (GM) rapeseed Brassica napus to its wild and weedy relatives. The aim of this research was to develop a remote sensing-assisted methodology to help quantify gene flow from crops to their wild relatives over wide areas. Emphasis was placed on locating sites of sympatry, where the frequency of gene flow is likely to be highest, and on measuring the size of rapeseed fields to allow spatially explicit modelling of wind-mediated pollen-dispersal patterns. Remote sensing was used as a tool to locate rapeseed fields, and a variety of image-processing techniques was adopted to facilitate the compilation of a spatially explicit profile of sympatry between the crop and Brassica rapa. Classified satellite images containing rapeseed fields were first used to infer the spatial relationship between donor rapeseed fields and recipient riverside B. rapa populations. Such images also have utility for improving the efficiency of ground surveys by identifying probable sites of sympatry. The same data were then also used for the calculation of mean field size. This paper forms a companion paper to Wilkinson et al. (2003), in which these elements were combined to produce a spatially explicit profile of hybrid formation over the UK. The current paper demonstrates the value of remote sensing and image processing for large-scale studies of gene flow, and describes a generic method that could be applied to a variety of crops in many countries. Synthesis and applications. The decision to approve or prevent the release of a GM cultivar is made at a national rather than regional level. It is highly desirable that data relating to the decision-making process are collected at the same scale, rather than relying on extrapolation from smaller experiments designed at the plot, field or even regional scale. It would be extremely difficult and labour intensive to attempt to carry out such large-scale investigations without the use of remote-sensing technology. This study used rapeseed in the UK as a model to demonstrate the value of remote sensing in assembling empirical information at a national level.