Spatio-temporal variation in landscape composition may speed resistance evolution of pests to Bt crops

Anthony R. Ives, Cate Paull, Andrew Hulthen, Sharon Downes, David A. Andow, Ralph Haygood, Myron P. Zalucki, Nancy A. Schellhorn

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22 Scopus citations


Transgenic crops that express insecticide genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are used worldwide against moth and beetle pests. Because these engineered plants can kill over 95% of susceptible larvae, they can rapidly select for resistance. Here, we use a model for a pyramid two-toxin Bt crop to explore the consequences of spatio-temporal variation in the area of Bt crop and non-Bt refuge habitat. We show that variability over time in the proportion of suitable non-Bt breeding habitat, Q, or in the total area of Bt and suitable non-Bt habitat, K, can increase the overall rate of resistance evolution by causing short-term surges of intense selection. These surges can be exacerbated when temporal variation in Q and/or K cause high larval densities in refuges that increase density-dependent mortality; this will give resistant larvae in Bt fields a relative advantage over susceptible larvae that largely depend on refuges. We address the effects of spatio-temporal variation in a management setting for two bollworm pests of cotton, Helicoverpa armigera and H. punctigera, and field data on landscape crop distributions from Australia. Even a small proportion of Bt fields available to egg-laying females when refuges are sparse may result in high exposure to Bt for just a single generation per year and cause a surge in selection. Therefore, rapid resistance evolution can occur when Bt crops are rare rather than common in the landscape. These results highlight the need to understand spatio-temporal fluctuations in the landscape composition of Bt crops and non-Bt habitats in order to design effective resistance management strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0169167
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge Cotton Research & Development Corporation as an investor in this project, for financial support to CP, AH, SD and NAS, and for travel funds for ARI. In addition the authors would like to thank the numerous cotton growers for their collaboration and access to their properties.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Ives et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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