Aphid-parasitoid community structure on genetically modified wheat

Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland.
Biology letters (Impact Factor: 3.43). 05/2011; 7(3):387-91. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.1147
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Since the introduction of genetically modified (GM) plants, one of the main concerns has been their potential effect on non-target insects. Many studies have looked at GM plant effects on single non-target herbivore species or on simple herbivore-natural enemy food chains. Agro-ecosystems, however, are characterized by numerous insect species which are involved in complex interactions, forming food webs. In this study, we looked at transgenic disease-resistant wheat (Triticum aestivum) and its effect on aphid-parasitoid food webs. We hypothesized that the GM of the wheat lines directly or indirectly affect aphids and that these effects cascade up to change the structure of the associated food webs. Over 2 years, we studied different experimental wheat lines under semi-field conditions. We constructed quantitative food webs to compare their properties on GM lines with the properties on corresponding non-transgenic controls. We found significant effects of the different wheat lines on insect community structure up to the fourth trophic level. However, the observed effects were inconsistent between study years and the variation between wheat varieties was as big as between GM plants and their controls. This suggests that the impact of our powdery mildew-resistant GM wheat plants on food web structure may be negligible and potential ecological effects on non-target insects limited.

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    ABSTRACT: In agricultural ecosystems, arthropod herbivores and fungal pathogens are likely to colonise the same plant and may therefore affect each other directly or indirectly. The fungus that causes powdery mildew (Blumeria graminis tritici) and cereal aphids are important pests of wheat but interactions between them have seldom been investigated. We studied the effects of powdery mildew of wheat on two cereal aphid species, Metopolophium dirhodum and Rhopalosiphum padi. We hypothesized that aphid number and size will be smaller on powdery mildew-infected plants than on non-infected plants. In a first experiment we used six commercially available wheat varieties whereas in the second experiment we used a genetically modified (GM) mildew-resistant wheat line and its non-transgenic sister line. Because the two lines differed only in the presence of the transgene and in powdery mildew resistance, experiment 2 avoided the confounding effect of variety. In both experiments, the number of M. dirhodum but not of R. padi was reduced by powdery mildew infection. Transgenic mildew-resistant lines therefore harboured bigger aphid populations than the non-transgenic lines. For both aphid species individual size was mostly influenced by aphid number. Our results indicate that plants that are protected from a particular pest (powdery mildew) became more favourable for another pest (aphids).
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