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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Dec 24;99(26):16581-6. Epub 2002 Dec 3.

Bacillus thuringiensis-toxin resistance management: stable isotope assessment of alternate host use by Helicoverpazea.

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Departments of Entomology, Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA.


Data have been lacking on the proportion of Helicovera zea larvae that develop on noncotton host plants that can serve as a refuge from selection pressure for adaptation to transgenic cotton varieties that produce a toxin from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. We found that individual H. zea moths that develop as larvae on cotton and other plants with C3 physiology have a different ratio of 13C to 12C than moths that develop on plants with C4 physiology, such as corn. We used this finding in determining the minimum percentage of moths that developed on noncotton hosts in two cotton-growing areas. Our results indicate that local corn can serve as a refuge for H. zea in midsummer. Our results contrast dramatically with the prevailing hypothesis that the large majority of late-season moths are produced from larvae feeding on cotton, soybean, and other C3 plants. Typically, <50% of moths captured in August through October have isotope ratios indicative of larval feeding on C3 plants. In one October sample, 100% of the moths originated from C4 hosts even though C4 crops were harvested at least 1 mo earlier, and no common wild C4 hosts were available. These findings support other research indicating that many late-season H. zea moths captured in Louisiana and Texas are migrants whose larvae developed on corn in more northern locations. Our isotope data on moths collected in Texas early in the season indicate that the majority of overwintering H. zea do not originate from cotton-feeding larvae and may be migrants from Mexico. Non-Bt corn in Mexico and the U.S. corn belt appears to serve as an important refuge for H. zea.

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