Such a network of trained people would be prohibitively expensive to maintain for the sole purpose of detecting the effects of commercialization of transgenic plants. However, trained professional and volunteer networks already exist in agricultural and natural areas, and it would be useful to determine how to integrate monitoring with preexisting networks.

In the United States, the Agricultural Extension Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have provided a detection network for invasive species. In addition, crop consultants and farmers themselves may notice environmental changes associated with transgenic crops. Building and maintaining the capacity to detect new acute ecological effects is paramount to an effective monitoring system. In natural areas, resource professionals in federal and state agencies (e.g., Fish and Wildlife Service, state departments of natural resources, natural heritage programs, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense) already assess and inventory or observe native species and ecosystems. The same is done in civil society organizations (such as the Nature Conservancy stewards, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, land trusts) and by professional and volunteer naturalists (hikers, birders, entomologists, botanists organized to form exotic pest plant councils, for example, native plant societies, etc.). Any deviations or unusual occurrences can be reported and then verified.

A critical need for assessing whether such reports are associated with the commercialization of transgenic crops will be access to detailed information (at the township level at least) on the spatial and temporal patterns of planting of specific transgenic varieties (see below). Systematic monitoring in areas planted with the same variety is needed to gather data used to build an understanding of processes and changes in the field and surrounding natural areas. Ecological effects with a low frequency of occurrence will probably occur in a spatially heterogeneous pattern. Monitoring for these effects can be improved by taking this spatial heterogeneity into account. For example, because the probability of a change being detected is likely to correlate spatially with the amount of transgenic crop planted in an area, spatial maps of planting density can lead monitoring personnel to the optimal monitoring locations.

Needed Training

Many of these networks of people are already stretched thin by their present responsibilities, so it is important that any additional activities associated with detecting potential environmental effects of transgenic

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement