Current research interests
My research is focused on the dynamics of natural and semi-natural populations, examining how they respond to changes in the arable environment and its management, and the impact of this on important ecosystem functions such as pest regulation, primary production and biodiversity.
The impact of novel plants and genes
Volunteer and feral plants can cause significant weed problems and provide a bridge for the escape of genes and traits from cultivated populations. Transgenic (GM) herbicide tolerant oilseed rape has provided a model system to investigate the spread and persistence of a novel plant traits and genes via this bridge. Using a multidisciplinary approach to detect, estimate and predict the persistence and gene flow of a transgenic event, this research has been important in identifying the consequences of the introduction GM plants into arable cropping systems.
For example, early modelling results were the first to predict the long-term persistence of GM oilseed rape in the UK arable system, while we have also had a unique opportunity within Europe to monitor fields used for the commercial cultivation of GMHT oilseed rape. This allowed us to describe patterns of heterogeneity in the adventitious presence of GM material in commercial fields and seed lots, identifying this as the principle source of error in the quantification of GM contamination and as a promoter of the spread of the GM trait.
This work is continuing with the development of an individual based plant model which simulates the spread and persistence of novel traits and genes within a field population. In similar work on the potential for transgenic escape in alfalfa we have been developing models of feral alfalfa population dynamics in collaboration with researchers from Canada and the US. A recently published analysis of the model is helping us to understand whether feral alfalfa populations could become invasive in the road-side habitats and to identifying appropriate strategies for its control.
Weeds play an important role in the arable system and understanding their potential for adaptation is key for predicting their response to changes in management and also the environment. By combining phenotyping with population genetic studies we have found evidence of an adaptive response in weed populations to crop management that leads to diversification through population differentiation. Again, we are able to combine the empirical and theoretical with the addition of an individual based weed model that will allow us to explore the evolutionary response of weeds to changing patterns of crop management and weed control, including the dynamics of herbicide tolerance.
The arable landscape is a dynamic combination of crop and semi-natural habitats. The response of populations and communities to this mosaic and its management is an increasing focus of my research. Since 2011 I have coordinated an international research effort into ecologically based strategies for Integrated Pest Management as a WP leader and Executive committee member of the €12 million EU project PURE. As part of this I lead a programme of research into the design of pest suppressive landscapes in which landscape ecology approaches are being used to explore the response of pests and natural enemy populations to crop and semi-natural habitat patterns.
Similar considerations are being extended to other parts of the arable ecosystem. For example in new project studying small mammal populations live trapping and molecular markers are used to identify population structure and patterns of habitat use, allowing us to predict the impact of future management, land use change on small mammal populations.
- 2011-2015: EU-PURE: Pesticide use and risk reduction in European farming systems with integrated pest management. European Commission (EU FP7). Total value £6,922,668
- 2011-2015: AMIGA: Assessing and monitoring the impacts of genetically modified plants on agro-ecosystems. European Commission (EU FP7). Total value £4,798,370
- 2010-2013: Virtual Balruddery – The Living Field project. Mylnefield Trust. Total value £14,729
- 2009-2012: Legume-Futures: Legume-supported cropping systems for Europe. European Commission (EU FP7). Total value £2,379,000
- Bagavathiannan M.V., Begg G.S., Gulden R.H., Van Acker R.C. 2012. Modelling the Dynamics of Feral Alfalfa Populations and Its Management Implications. PLoS ONE 7(6):e39440.
- Toorop P.E., Cuerva R.C., Begg G.S., Locardi B., Squire G.R., Iannetta P.P.M. 2012. Co-adaptation of seed dormancy and flowering time in the arable weed Capsella bursa-pastoris (L.) Medik. (shepherd's purse). Annals of Botany 109, 481-489.
- Begg G.S., Wishart J., Squire G.R., Iannetta, P.P.M. 2012. Genetic structure among arable populations of Capsella bursa-pastoris L. Medik is linked to functional traits and in-field conditions. Ecography 35, 446-457.
- Birch, A.N.E., Begg, G.S., Squire, G.R. 2011. How agro-ecological research helps to address food security under new IPM and pesticide reduction policies for global production systems. Journal of Experimental Botany 62, 3251-3261.
- Bagavathiannan M.V., Gulden R.H., Begg G.S., Van Acker R.C. 2010. The demography of feral alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) populations occurring in road side habitats in southern Manitoba, Canada. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. (doi 10.1007/s11356-010-0330-2)
- Newton A.C., Begg G.S., Swanston J.S. 2009. Deployment of diversity for enhanced crop function. Annals of Applied Biology 159, 309-322.
- Squire, G.R., Hawes, C., Begg, G.S., Young, M.W. 2009. Cumulative impact of GM herbicide-tolerant cropping on arable plants assessed through species-based and functional taxonomies. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 16, 85-94.
- Begg, G.S., Elliott, M.J., Cullen, D.W., Iannetta, P.P.M., Squire, G.R. 2008. Heterogeneity in the distribution of genetically modified and conventional oilseed rape within fields and seed lots. Transgenic Research 17, 805-816.
- Begg, G.S., Cullen, D.W., Iannetta, P.P.M., Squire, G.R. 2007. Sources of uncertainty in the quantification of genetically modified oilseed rape contamination in harvested seed lots. Transgenic Research 16, 51-63.
- Iannetta, P.P.M., Begg, G.S., Hawes, C., Young, M., Russell, J., Squire, G.R. 2007. Variation in Capsella (shepherd’s purse): an example of intra-specific functional diversity. Physiologia Plantarum 129, 542-554.
- Begg, G.S., Hockaday, S., McNicol, J.W., Askew, M., Squire, G.R. 2006. Modelling the persistence of volunteer oilseed rape (Brassica napus). Ecological Modelling 198, 195-207.
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