Has selection for improved agronomic traits made reed canarygrass invasive?

Research paper by Andrew R AR Jakubowski, Michael D MD Casler, Randall D RD Jackson

Indexed on: 13 Oct '11Published on: 13 Oct '11Published in: PloS one


Plant breeders have played an essential role in improving agricultural crops, and their efforts will be critical to meet the increasing demand for cellulosic bioenergy feedstocks. However, a major concern is the potential development of novel invasive species that result from breeders' efforts to improve agronomic traits in a crop. We use reed canarygrass as a case study to evaluate the potential of plant breeding to give rise to invasive species. Reed canarygrass has been improved by breeders for use as a forage crop, but it is unclear whether breeding efforts have given rise to more vigorous populations of the species. We evaluated cultivars, European wild, and North American invader populations in upland and wetland environments to identify differences in vigor between the groups of populations. While cultivars were among the most vigorous populations in an agricultural environment (upland soils with nitrogen addition), there were no differences in above- or below-ground production between any populations in wetland environments. These results suggest that breeding has only marginally increased vigor in upland environments and that these gains are not maintained in wetland environments. Breeding focuses on selection for improvements of a specific target population of environments, and stability across a wide range of environments has proved elusive for even the most intensively bred crops. We conclude that breeding efforts are not responsible for wetland invasion by reed canarygrass and offer guidelines that will help reduce the possibility of breeding programs releasing cultivars that will become invasive.