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Research article2008Peer reviewed

Vole response to unintentional changes in the chemistry of GM poplars

Hjalten, Joakim; Lindau, Anna; Wennstrom, Anders; Blomberg, Patrik; Witzell, Johanna; Hurry, Vaughan; Ericson, Lars; Moritz, Tomas; Karlsson, Jan


There is an increased interest for the use of GM trees in forestry and several commercially promising lines are now available. However, the ecological implications of the use of GM trees, e.g. effects on non-target natural enemies, have rarely been explored. The aim of this study was to determine if modification of non-defensive traits in GM poplars unintentionally can influence plant chemistry in a way that has consequences for palatability to voles. In a greenhouse experiment, we used two lines, SPS33A and SPS26, of GM hybrid poplars (Populus tremula x tremuloides) with 1.5 and 4 times, respectively, over-expression sucrose-phosphate synthase (SPS). This enzyme plays a central role in sucrose synthesis, affecting cold acclimation, mesophyll sucrose content and biomass production. As a control we used the isogenic unmodified wild type. Stems of these poplars were presented to bank voles and field voles in cafeteria experiments. The concentration of condensed tannins was higher in leaves of lines SPS33A and SPS26 than in the isogenic wild-type and the concentration of nitrogen was higher in line SPS33A than in both the wild-type and line SPS26. Although the bank voles consumed slightly less bark from SPS33A, there were no significant differences in the preference of bank vole or field vole for the different poplar lines. This indicates that the changes in plant chemistry were insufficient to produce any strong herbivore response or that alteration in tannins and nitrogen counteracted each other. Still, changes in the interactions between mammalian herbivores and GM trees are important to consider in future cost-benefits analyses of GM trees.


GM poplars; phenolics; voles; food preference; populus

Published in

2008, Volume: 18, number: 4, pages: 227-231