A spatial assessment of Brassica napus gene flow potential to wild and weedy relatives in the Fynbos Biome
Gene flow between related plant species, and between transgenic and non-transgenic crop varieties, may be considered a form of biological invasion. Brassica napus (oilseed rape or canola) and its relatives are well known for intra- and inter-specific gene flow, hybridisation and weediness. Gene flow associated with B. napus poses a potential ecological risk in the Fynbos Biome of South Africa, because of the existence of both naturalised (alien, weedy) and native relatives in this region. This risk is particularly pertinent given the proposed use of B. napus for biofuel and the potential future introduction of herbicide-tolerant transgenic B. napus. Here we quantify the presence and co-occurrence of B. napus and its wild and weedy relatives in the Fynbos Biome, as a first step in the ecological risk assessment for this crop. Several alien and at least one native relative of B. napus were found to be prevalent in the region, and to be spatially congruent with B. napus fields. The first requirement for potential gene flow to occur has thus been met. In addition, a number of these species have elsewhere been found to be reproductively compatible with B. napus. Further assessment of the potential ecological risks associated with B. napus in South Africa is constrained by uncertainties in the phylogeny of the Brassicaceae, difficulties with morphology-based identification, and poor knowledge of the biology of several of the species involved, particularly under South African conditions.