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Responses of stream macroinvertebrates to Bt maize leaf detritus

Chambers, Catherine P., Whiles, Matt R., Rosi-Marshall, Emma J., Tank, Jennifer L., Royer, Todd V., Griffiths, Natalie A., Evans-White, Michelle A., Stojak, Amber R.
Ecological applications 2010 v.20 no.7 pp. 1949-1960
Bacillus thuringiensis, Chironomidae, Oligochaeta, Trichoptera, agricultural land, anthropogenic activities, anthropogenic stressors, aquatic invertebrates, biomass, channelization, community structure, corn, detritivores, detritus, leaves, macroinvertebrates, pesticides, streams, sublethal effects, toxins, transgenic plants, Midwestern United States
In the midwestern United States, maize detritus enters streams draining agricultural land. Genetically modified Bt maize is commonly planted along streams and can possibly affect benthic macroinvertebrates, specifically members of the order Trichoptera, which are closely related to target species of some Bt toxins and are important detritivores in streams. The significance of inputs of Bt maize to aquatic systems has only recently been recognized, and assessments of potential nontarget impacts on aquatic organisms are lacking. We conducted laboratory feeding trials and found that the leaf‐shredding trichopteran, Lepidostoma liba, grew significantly slower when fed Bt maize compared to non‐Bt maize, while other invertebrate taxa that we examined showed no negative effects. We also used field studies to assess the influence of Bt maize detritus on benthic macroinvertebrate abundance, diversity, biomass, and functional structure in situ in 12 streams adjacent to Bt maize or non‐Bt maize fields. We found no significant differences in total abundance or biomass between Bt and non‐Bt streams, and trichopterans comprised only a small percentage of invertebrate biomass at all sites (0–15%). Shannon diversity did not differ among Bt and non‐Bt streams and was always low (H′ range = 0.9–1.9). Highly tolerant taxa, such as oligochaetes and chironomids, were dominant in both Bt and non‐Bt streams, and macroinvertebrate community composition was relatively constant across seasons. We used litterbags to examine macroinvertebrate colonization of Bt and non‐Bt maize detritus and found no significant differences among litter or stream types. Our in situ findings did not support our laboratory results; this is likely because the streams we studied in this region are highly degraded and subject to multiple, persistent anthropogenic stressors (e.g., channelization, altered flow, nutrient and pesticide inputs). Invertebrate communities in these streams are a product of these degraded conditions, and thus the impact of a single stressor, such as Bt toxins, may not be readily discernable. Our results add to growing evidence that Bt toxins can have sublethal effects on nontarget aquatic taxa, but this evidence should be considered in the context of other anthropogenic impacts and alternative methods of pest control influencing streams draining agricultural regions.