GRE Reading Comprehension
Bracken fern has been spreading from its woodland strongholds for centuries, but the rate of encroachment into open countryside has lately increased alarmingly through- out northern and western Britain. A tough competitor, bracken reduces the value of grazing land by crowding out other vegetation. The fern is itself poisonous to livestock, and also encourages proliferation of sheep ticks, which not only attack sheep but also transmit diseases. No less impor- tant to some people are bracken's effects on threatened habitats and on the use of uplands for recreational pur- poses, even though many appreciate its beauty. Biological controls may be the only economic solution. One potentially cheap and self-sustaining method of halting the spread of bracken is to introduce natural enemies of the plant. Initially unrestrained by predators of their own, foreign predators are likely to be able to multiply rapidly and overwhelm intended targets. Because bracken occurs throughout the world, there is plenty of scope for this approach. Two candidates, both moths from the Southern Hemisphere, are now being studied. Of course, biological control agents can safely be released only if it can be verified that they feed solely on the target weed. The screening tests have so far been fraught with difficulties. The first large shipment of moths succumbed to a disease. Growing enough bracken indoors is difficult, and the moths do not readily exploit cut stems. These are common problems with rearing insects for bio- logical control.
Other problems can be foreseen. Policymakers need to consider many factors and opinions such as the cost of control compared to existing methods, and the impact of the clearance of bracken on the landscape, wildlife, and vegetation. In fact, scientists already have much of the information needed to assess the impact of biological control of bracken, but it is spread among many individ- uals, organizations, and government bodies. The potential gains for the environment are likely to outweigh the losses because few plants, insects, mammals, and birds live associated only with bracken, and many would benefit from a return of other vegetation or from a more diverse mosaic of habitats. But legal consequences of attempts at biological control present a potential minefield. For exam- ple, many rural tenants still have the right of "estoyers" the right to cut bracken as bedding for livestock and uses. What would happen if they were deprived of these rights? Once a biological control agent is released, it is difficult to control its speed. What consideration is due landowners who do not want to control bracken? Accord- ing to law, the release of the biological control agents must be authorized by the secretary of state for the environment. But Britain lacks the legal and administrative machinery to assemble evidence for and against release.
Which of the following best states the main idea of the passage?
- A Studies suggest that biologicalcontrol of bracken will not be technically feasible.
- B Although biological control appears to be the best solution to bracken infestation, careful assessment of the consequences is required.
- C Environmentalists are hoping that laboratory technicians will find a way to raise large numbers of moths in captivity.
- D Bracken is currently the best solution to the proliferation of nonnative moth species.
- E Even after researchers discover the most economical method of pest control, the government has no authority to implement a control program.
Correct Answer: B