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Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services

Abstract

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.

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Figure 1: Population densities of predators and aphids on cotton with different management regimes at Langfang experimental station (2001–2011).
Figure 2: Relationships between predator population density and number of insecticide sprays on cotton in northern China (1990–2010).
Figure 3: Population abundance of cotton aphid in northern China (1990–2010) and relationship with predator abundance on cotton.
Figure 4: Relationships between predator abundance on cotton and in three other crops, and between predator and aphid abundances in maize.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the agricultural technicians of the 36 surveyed locations for providing data sets from cotton fields; W. Li and L. Wang for providing the predator exclusion cage data sets; Y. Zhang and C. Li for assistance in making the survey map; H. Yuan for help in preparing the list of insecticides in cotton; and R. Senoussi for advice on data analyses. This work was funded by the Key Project for Breeding Genetically Modified Organisms (grant no. 2011ZX08012-004) and the International Science and Technology Cooperation Project (grant no. 2010DFA32200).

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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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kongming Wu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Lu, Y., Wu, K., Jiang, Y. et al. Widespread adoption of Bt cotton and insecticide decrease promotes biocontrol services. Nature 487, 362–365 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11153

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