Department of Entomology, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 70803, United States of America.
To counter the threat of insect resistance, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize growers in the U.S. are required to plant structured non-Bt maize refuges. Concerns with refuge compliance led to the introduction of seed mixtures, also called RIB (refuge-in-the-bag), as an alternative approach for implementing refuge for Bt maize products in the U.S. Maize Belt. A major concern in RIB is cross-pollination of maize hybrids that can cause Bt proteins to be present in refuge maize kernels and negatively affect refuge insects. Here we show that a mixed planting of 5% nonBt and 95% Bt maize containing the SmartStax traits expressing Cry1A.105, Cry2Ab2 and Cry1F did not provide an effective refuge for an important above-ground ear-feeding pest, the corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea (Boddie). Cross-pollination in RIB caused a majority (>90%) of refuge kernels to express ≥ one Bt protein. The contamination of Bt proteins in the refuge ears reduced neonate-to-adult survivorship of H. zea to only 4.6%, a reduction of 88.1% relative to larvae feeding on ears of pure non-Bt maize plantings. In addition, the limited survivors on refuge ears had lower pupal mass and took longer to develop to adults.
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