Beating the “Billion-Dollar Bug” Is a Shared Burden

Western Corn Rootworm Larvae

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Larvae of western corn rootworm, Diabrotica virgifera virgifera, feeding upon corn roots. Credit: Photo by Stephen Ausmus, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Study demonstrates how specific farming practices connected with higher corn rootworm damage can have farther-reaching results.

A prowling risk that has actually stymied United States corn growers for years is now going back to the leading edge: western corn rootworm. Sometimes described as the “billion-dollar bug,” the types’ small larvae chew through the roots of corn plants, triggering destructive yield losses. In 2003, farmers started planting a genetically crafted range of corn called “Bt,” which produces a protein harmful to the insect types – however by 2009, the billion-dollar bug had actually currently developed adjustments for resistance to the toxic substance.

A brand-new research study recommends that slowing the renewal of western corn rootworm might need a larger-scale method than formerly believed. The findings, which were released in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications, reveal that when farmers do not follow finest management practices for mitigating corn rootworm within a field, they likewise threaten surrounding fields.

Iowa Corn Field

Corn rows as far as the eye can see in Buchanan County, Iowa. Credit: Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally boosted by rawpixel.

Primary author Coy St. Clair and his coworker Aaron Gassmann determined 64 “problem fields” throughout Iowa, where western corn rootworm had actually triggered greater-than-expected levels of injury to corn in between 2009 and 2013 in 2 ranges of Bt maize: Cry3Bb1 and mCry3A. Compared to fields where rootworm had actually not harmed Bt maize, the issue fields had greater levels of constant maize growing in surrounding buffer locations.

Regular crop rotation is a crucial method for disrupting rootworm’s life process: when rootworm eggs hatch in a field without corn, the larvae starve prior to they have an opportunity to develop and lay eggs. However, constant planting of corn tends to be more rewarding in the short-term, leaving corn growers with tough choices about how to handle dangers.

St. Clair, now a research study entomologist for Genective (Champaign, Ill.) who performed the research study as a Ph.D. trainee at Iowa State University, states that the story of western corn rootworm resistance to Bt shows that insect mitigation is a shared obligation. “If the pest remains susceptible, everyone benefits. If resistance develops, everyone suffers.”

Continuous maize growing offers nascent rootworm populations an opportunity to progress resistance to the Bt toxic substance – and for those freshly resistant offspring to take a trip to other fields.

“The takeaway here is that a farmer who is employing best management practices – such as frequent crop rotation, or planting of non-Bt maize – will effectively manage rootworm and delay resistance in their own field firstly, while simultaneously helping to delay resistance development in surrounding populations secondly,” discussed St. Clair. “Conversely, a farmer who is planting multiple years of the same trait will risk resistance in their own field, while contributing to the depletion of the shared resource of trait susceptibility.”

As of 2020, agronomists have actually verified that populations of western corn rootworm resistant to the 2 Bt characteristics taken a look at in the research study exist throughout the United States corn belt, together with 2 extra Bt characteristics.  

Reference: “Linking land use patterns and pest outbreaks in Bt maize” by Coy R. St. Clair and Aaron J. Gassmann, 11 January 2021, Ecological Applications.
DOI: 10.1002/eap.2295

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