No Adverse Effect of Genetically Modified Antifungal Wheat on Decomposition Dynamics and the Soil Fauna Community – A Field Study

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Abstract or Summary

The cultivation of genetically modified (GM) plants has raised several environmental concerns. One of these concerns regards non-target soil fauna organisms, which play an important role in the decomposition of organic matter and hence are largely exposed to GM plant residues. Soil fauna may be directly affected by transgene products or indirectly by pleiotropic effects such as a modified plant metabolism. Thus, ecosystem services and functioning might be affected negatively. In a litterbag experiment in the field we analysed the decomposition process and the soil fauna community involved. Therefore, we used four experimental GM wheat varieties, two with a race-specific antifungal resistance against powdery mildew (Pm3b) and two with an unspecific antifungal resistance based on the expression of chitinase and glucanase. We compared them with two non-GM isolines and six conventional cereal varieties. To elucidate the mechanisms that cause differences in plant decomposition, structural plant components (i.e. C:N ratio, lignin, cellulose, hemicellulose) were examined and soil properties, temperature and precipitation were monitored. The most frequent taxa extracted from decaying plant material were mites (Cryptostigmata, Gamasina and Uropodina), springtails (Isotomidae), annelids (Enchytraeidae) and Diptera (Cecidomyiidae larvae). Despite a single significant transgenic/month interaction for Cecidomyiidae larvae, which is probably random, we detected no impact of the GM wheat on the soil fauna community. However, soil fauna differences among conventional cereal varieties were more pronounced than between GM and non-GM wheat. While leaf residue decomposition in GM and non-GM wheat was similar, differences among conventional cereals were evident. Furthermore, sampling date and location were found to greatly influence soil fauna community and decomposition processes. The results give no indication of ecologically relevant adverse effects of antifungal GM wheat on the composition and the activity of the soil fauna community.

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