Contamination and management of resistance evolution to high-dose transgenic insecticidal crops

Paul R. Glaum, Anthony R. Ives, David A. Andow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


For maize and cotton, transgenic varieties that express toxins derived from Bacillus thuriengensis (Bt) are now planted in several countries. To slow resistance evolution, the "high-dose/refuge" strategy is broadly implemented in which resistance is recessive and some fields (or areas within fields) are planted exclusively with Bt crops and other fields planted exclusively with non-transgenic refuge crops for susceptible insects. This strategy, however, could potentially be undermined by contamination. Here, we investigate general models of resistance evolution for high-dose events in which fields are contaminated due to the inadvertent mixing of seeds, volunteer plants, or pollen flow between Bt and non-Bt varieties coupled with seed-saving by farmers. Contamination of the refuge by Bt plants increases selection for resistance, thereby speeding resistance evolution. Nonetheless, in most situations this effect is small. Contamination of Bt fields by non-transgenic plants might be expected to have the opposite effect and always reduce the rate of resistance evolution. While this is often the case, it is not always so. If larvae move among plants within a field, then high movement rates may reverse the effect of contamination of Bt fields to slow resistance evolution. Furthermore, if the dispersal rates of adult females between Bt and refuge fields are low, then contamination of Bt fields may speed resistance. These results suggest that contamination has the potential to undermine the efficacy of the high-dose/refuge strategy, yet depending upon the particular pest and situation, contamination may not be a concern.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-209
Number of pages15
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments P. R. Glaum was funded in part by a United States-National Science Foundation Interdisciplinary Training for Undergraduates in Biological and Mathematical Sciences grant to A. R. Ives and P. A. Milewski (UW-Madison). We also thank the United States Department of Agriculture-IFAFS (2001-52100-11216 and 2007-02244) for additional support.


  • Bt crop
  • Ecological risk
  • Evolutionary dynamics
  • GM crop
  • Genetic engineering


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