Bt Crop Effects on Functional Guilds of Non-Target Arthropods: A Meta-Analysis

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Abstract or Summary

Uncertainty persists over the environmental effects of genetically-engineered crops that produce the insecticidal Cry proteins of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). We performed meta-analyses on a modified public database to synthesize current knowledge about the effects of Bt cotton, maize and potato on the abundance and interactions of arthropod non-target functional guilds.

Methodology/Principal Findings
We compared the abundance of predators, parasitoids, omnivores, detritivores and herbivores under scenarios in which neither, only the non-Bt crops, or both Bt and non-Bt crops received insecticide treatments. Predators were less abundant in Bt cotton compared to unsprayed non-Bt controls. As expected, fewer specialist parasitoids of the target pest occurred in Bt maize fields compared to unsprayed non-Bt controls, but no significant reduction was detected for other parasitoids. Numbers of predators and herbivores were higher in Bt crops compared to sprayed non-Bt controls, and type of insecticide influenced the magnitude of the difference. Omnivores and detritivores were more abundant in insecticide-treated controls and for the latter guild this was associated with reductions of their predators in sprayed non-Bt maize. No differences in abundance were found when both Bt and non-Bt crops were sprayed. Predator-to-prey ratios were unchanged by either Bt crops or the use of insecticides; ratios were higher in Bt maize relative to the sprayed non-Bt control.

Overall, we find no uniform effects of Bt cotton, maize and potato on the functional guilds of non-target arthropods. Use of and type of insecticides influenced the magnitude and direction of effects; insecticde effects were much larger than those of Bt crops. These meta-analyses underscore the importance of using controls not only to isolate the effects of a Bt crop per se but also to reflect the replacement of existing agricultural practices. Results will provide researchers with information to design more robust experiments and will inform the decisions of diverse stakeholders regarding the safety of transgenic insecticidal crops.


Bt Crop Effects on Functional Guilds of Non-Target Arthropods: A Meta-Analysis (held on an external server, and so may require additional authentication details)

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