Natural enemy abundance and biological control in Bt maize using simulations of predator-prey interactions
Brown, Christopher Regan
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The potential effects of genetically modified maize expressing insect-resistant proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) on natural enemies represent an active area of research highlighting considerable interest in understanding even subtle perturbations in agroecosystems. In the case of Bt maize, indirect effects on natural enemies may occur due to a reduced prey base caused by the desired effect of pest control by the Bt plant. Although these indirect effects may be subtle and difficult to study in the field, a modeling approach offers an alternative, allowing factors related to these subtle effects to be easily explored. In this effort, simulations of interactions between maize, two pests (the European corn borer (ECB) and an aphid), and two natural enemies (a lady beetle and green lacewing) were made using a modified TrophicLink model. TrophicLink is an individual-based model that uses functional ecology and food web network theory to simulate the trophic interactions of individuals and the resulting flow of energy. The individual-based model approach emphasizes the unique experiences of individuals and their trophic interactions leading to system level effects. Pollen utilization, cannibalism, and intraguild predation by natural enemies were simulated to explore the influence of these factors and to test the model. The model performed well in terms of reasonable representation of trophic functional types and interactions between them. The natural enemies were able to reduce a lepidopteran pest population and partially protect yield. The presence of pollen was influential in natural enemy population sizes and the biological control they provide. Cannibalism and intraguild predation caused notable reductions in natural enemy populations, but only small differences in biological control levels. In a second set of simulations involving Bt maize, prey-reduced scenarios included a short-term Bt maize scenario with ECB eggs and young larvae, and a second scenario without any ECB representing regional suppression of ECB by wide adoption of the Bt maize. Lady beetle and green lacewing population mass were similar across scenarios indicating resiliency of the generalist natural enemies to prey removal in the scenarios simulated. These findings are consistent with field study data that have not found consistent effects of Bt maize on natural enemies.