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Graham Begg

Staff picture: Graham Begg
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Sciences
Ecological Modeller
+44 (0)1382 568817

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


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.

I am a key staff member leading Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPM) research at the James Hutton Institute. For details of ongoing IPM research areas and projects, please visit the IPM@hutton website.

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.

Weed diversity

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.

Landscape agroecology 

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.

Current projects

  • 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


Printed from /staff/graham-begg on 25/03/23 04:07:56 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.