The Effect of Farmers’ Decisions on Pest Control with Bt Crops: A Billion Dollar Game of Strategy

Alice E. Milne, James R. Bell, William D. Hutchison, Frank van den Bosch, Paul D. Mitchell, David Crowder, Stephen Parnell, Andrew P. Whitmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


A farmer’s decision on whether to control a pest is usually based on the perceived threat of the pest locally and the guidance of commercial advisors. Therefore, farmers in a region are often influenced by similar circumstances, and this can create a coordinated response for pest control that is effective at a landscape scale. This coordinated response is not intentional, but is an emergent property of the system. We propose a framework for understanding the intrinsic feedback mechanisms between the actions of humans and the dynamics of pest populations and demonstrate this framework using the European corn borer, a serious pest in maize crops. We link a model of the European corn borer and a parasite in a landscape with a model that simulates the decisions of individual farmers on what type of maize to grow. Farmers chose whether to grow Bt-maize, which is toxic to the corn borer, or conventional maize for which the seed is cheaper. The problem is akin to the snow-drift problem in game theory; that is to say, if enough farmers choose to grow Bt maize then because the pest is suppressed an individual may benefit from growing conventional maize. We show that the communication network between farmers’ and their perceptions of profit and loss affects landscape scale patterns in pest dynamics. We found that although adoption of Bt maize often brings increased financial returns, these rewards oscillate in response to the prevalence of pests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004483
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) grant number S5198. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Milne et al.


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