Development of genetically modified (GM) wheat has raised concerns about the movement and persistence of transgenes in agroecosystems and the ability of growers to segregate GM from conventional wheat. Wheat as a crop has been studied extensively but the population biology of volunteer wheat is not well characterized. Artificial seed bank studies were conducted in western Canada to provide baseline data on volunteer wheat seed persistence. Seed from two cultivars of Canadian western red spring wheat, ‘AC Splendor’ and ‘AC Superb’, were buried in mesh bags at three depths (0, 2, and 15 cm) in two different environments in the fall of 2003 and 2004. In addition, in 2004, ‘AC Superb’ seed were separated into small and large seed lots and buried with a medium seed lot to examine the influence of seed size on seed bank persistence. Seeds were withdrawn at intervals to assess seed germination and viability and regression analysis conducted on the viable seed at each sample period, after burial. Seed viability was variable within years and sites, and declined exponentially over time. In the spring, approximately 6 mo after initiation, viable seed ranged from 1 to 43%. With the exception of a single site and year, seeds on the soil surface persisted significantly longer than buried seeds and increasing burial depth accelerated loss of viability. The maximum viability of wheat seeds at 0, 2, and 15 cm depth in the spring following planting was 43, 7, and 2%, respectively. The extinction of viability for 99% (EX99) of the seed was estimated from regression analysis. The EX99 values of seeds buried at 0, 2, and 15 cm ranged from 493 to 1,114, 319 to 654, and 175 to 352 d after planting (DAP), respectively, with the exception of one site in 2003 where burial depths were not different and all had an EX99 value of 456 DAP. Seed size and cultivar did not significantly affect persistence, with the exception of one site in 2003 where the difference in EX99 values was 20 DAP. The rapid loss of seed viability limits temporal gene flow via volunteers in years following a wheat crop. Results provide data on spring wheat biology to aid in Canadian environmental biosafety assessments of GM wheat and will be incorporated into a mechanistic model to predict wheat gene flow on the Canadian prairies.
Nomenclature: Spring wheat; Triticum aestivum L