The evolution of resistance to two-toxin pyramid transgenic crops

Anthony R. Ives, Paul R. Glaum, Nicolas L. Ziebarth, David A. Andow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

82 Scopus citations


Pyramid transgenic crops that express two Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins hold great potential for reducing insect damage and slowing the evolution of resistance to the toxins. Here, we analyzed a suite of models for pyramid Bt crops to illustrate factors that should be considered when implementing the high dose-refuge strategy for resistance management; this strategy involves the high expression of toxins in Bt plants and use of non-Bt plants as refuges. Although resistance evolution to pyramid Bt varieties should in general be slower, resistance to pyramid Bt varieties is nonetheless driven by the same evolutionary processes as single Bt-toxin varieties. The main advantage of pyramid varieties is the low survival of insects heterozygous for resistance alleles. We show that there are two modes of resistance evolution. When populations of purely susceptible insects persist, leading to density dependence, the speed of resistance evolution changes slowly with the proportion of refuges. However, once the proportion of non-Bt plants crosses the threshold below which a susceptible population cannot persist, the speed of resistance evolution increases rapidly. This suggests that adaptive management be used to guarantee persistence of susceptible populations. We compared the use of seed mixtures in which Bt and non-Bt plants are sown in the same fields to the use of spatial refuges. As found for single Bt varieties, seed mixtures can speed resistance evolution if larvae move among plants. Devising optimal management plans for deploying spatial refuges is difficult because they depend on crop rotation patterns, whether males or females have limited dispersal, and other characteristics. Nonetheless, the effects of spatial refuges on resistance evolution can be understood by considering the three mechanisms determining the rate of resistance evolution: the force of selection (the proportion of insects killed by Bt), assortative mating (deviations of the proportion of heterozygotes from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium at the total population level), and male mating success (when males carrying resistance alleles find fewer mates). Of these three, assortative mating is often the least important, even though this mechanism is the most frequently cited explanation for the efficacy of the high dose-refuge strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-515
Number of pages13
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2011


  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Bollworm
  • Bt corn
  • Bt cotton
  • Budworm
  • European corn borer
  • Heterozygotes vs. homozygotes
  • Rootworm
  • Transgenic crops
  • Two-gene resistance mechanisms


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