Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
487,
Pages:
362–365
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nature11153
Received
Accepted
Published online

Over the past 16 years, vast plantings of transgenic crops producing insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) have helped to control several major insect pests1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and reduce the need for insecticide sprays1, 5, 6. Because broad-spectrum insecticides kill arthropod natural enemies that provide biological control of pests, the decrease in use of insecticide sprays associated with Bt crops could enhance biocontrol services7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. However, this hypothesis has not been tested in terms of long-term landscape-level impacts10. On the basis of data from 1990 to 2010 at 36 sites in six provinces of northern China, we show here a marked increase in abundance of three types of generalist arthropod predators (ladybirds, lacewings and spiders) and a decreased abundance of aphid pests associated with widespread adoption of Bt cotton and reduced insecticide sprays in this crop. We also found evidence that the predators might provide additional biocontrol services spilling over from Bt cotton fields onto neighbouring crops (maize, peanut and soybean). Our work extends results from general studies evaluating ecological effects of Bt crops1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 13 by demonstrating that such crops can promote biocontrol services in agricultural landscapes.

At a glance

Figures

  1. Population densities of predators and aphids on cotton with different management regimes at Langfang experimental station (2001-2011).
    Figure 1: Population densities of predators and aphids on cotton with different management regimes at Langfang experimental station (2001–2011).

    a, Predators. b, Aphids. The blue and red lines indicate Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton without insecticide sprays, respectively; the green line represents non-Bt cotton with CBW insecticide sprays (chemical control).

  2. Relationships between predator population density and number of insecticide sprays on cotton in northern China (1990-2010).
    Figure 2: Relationships between predator population density and number of insecticide sprays on cotton in northern China (1990–2010).

    a, Survey locations, indicated by red dots. b, Predator population density on cotton in commercial fields in 36 locations (each point represents one-year data; the red arrow indicates the beginning of Bt cotton use). Inset: population abundance of ladybirds (blue), spiders (red) and lacewings (green), collected from 14 locations. c, Number of insecticide sprays for CBW (grey points) and all insect pests (black points) on cotton; each point represents one-year data. d, Linear relationship between total number of insecticide applications, determined by pooling all treatments against all the insect pests on cotton (x), and the predator abundance (y) in cotton (y = −1.69x+30.63, F1,19 = 71.19, R2 = 0.79, P<0.0001). e, Linear relationship between number of insecticide applications for CBW only (x) and predator abundance (y) (y = −1.11x+16.03, F1,19 = 137.32, R2 = 0.88, P<0.0001). The data in d and e are replotted from b and c. All error bars show s.e.m.

  3. Population abundance of cotton aphid in northern China (1990-2010) and relationship with predator abundance on cotton.
    Figure 3: Population abundance of cotton aphid in northern China (1990–2010) and relationship with predator abundance on cotton.

    a, Regression analysis between abundance of aphids (y) (loge-transformed) and predator abundance (x) (y = e−0.15x+8.39, F1,19 = 69.67, R2 = 0.79, P<0.0001). b, Aphid population density on cotton in commercial fields in 24 locations (each point represents one-year data, and the red arrow indicates the beginning of Bt cotton use). Red lines show the mean population density of aphids in cotton fields during three main periods, namely before Bt cotton planting (1990–1996), when Bt cotton planting was less than 90% of cotton surfaces planted (1997–2003) and when it was more than 90% (2004–2010). Red lines bearing different letters are significantly different at the P<0.05 level in least-significant-difference post-hoc tests (one-way analysis of variance on loge-transformed data: F2,18 = 27.57, P<0.0001). All error bars show s.e.m.

  4. Relationships between predator abundance on cotton and in three other crops, and between predator and aphid abundances in maize.
    Figure 4: Relationships between predator abundance on cotton and in three other crops, and between predator and aphid abundances in maize.

    Data on soybean (2001–2011), peanut (2001–2005 and 2008–2011) and maize (2001–2003 and 2008–2011) were collected at Langfang experimental station. a, Linear relationship between predator abundance on cotton (x) and on soybean (y) (y = 0.10x+3.38, F1,9 = 8.11, R2 = 0.47, P = 0.0191). b, Linear relationship between predator abundance on cotton (x) and on peanut (y) (y = 0.09x+2.66, F1,7 = 4.38, R2 = 0.38, P = 0.0747). c, Linear relationship between predator abundance on cotton (x) and on maize (y) (y = 0.23x+14.96, F1,5 = 2.00, R2 = 0.29, P = 0.2164). d, Relationship between predator abundance (x) and abundance of aphids in maize (y; loge-transformed data) (y = e−0.07x+8.31, F1,5 = 5.80, R2 = 0.54, P = 0.0610). All error bars show s.e.m.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. State Key Laboratory for Biology of Plant Diseases and Insect Pests, Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, 100193 China

    • Yanhui Lu,
    • Kongming Wu &
    • Yuyuan Guo
  2. National Agro-Technical Extension and Service Center, Beijing, 100026 China

    • Yuying Jiang
  3. French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), UMR1355-ISA, 400 route des chappes, 06903 Sophia-Antipolis, France

    • Nicolas Desneux

Contributions

K.W., Y.L. and Y.G. designed and performed the experiments. Y.J. performed the surveys. Y.L., K.W. and N.D. analysed the data and shared in the scoping and writing responsibilities.

Competing financial interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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