Field deposition of Bt transgenic corn pollen: Lethal effects on the monarch butterfly

Laura C. Hansen Jesse, John J. Obrycki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


We present the first evidence that transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn pollen naturally deposited on Asclepias syriaca; common milkweed, in a corn field causes significant mortality of Danaus plexippus L. (Lepidoptera: Danaidae) larvae. Larvae feeding for 48 h on A. syriaca plants naturally dusted with pollen from Bt corn plants suffered significantly higher rates of mortality at 48 h (20±3%) compared to larvae feeding on leaves with no pollen (3±3%), or feeding on leaves with non-Bt pollen (0%). Mortality at 120 h of D. plexippus larvae exposed to 135 pollen grains/cm2 of transgenic pollen for 48 h ranged from 37 to 70%. We found no sub-lethal effects on D. plexippus adults reared from larvae that survived a 48-h exposure to three concentrations of Bt pollen. Based on our quantification of the wind dispersal of this pollen beyond the edges of agricultural fields, we predict that the effects of transgenic pollen on D. plexippus may be observed at least 10 m from transgenic field borders. However, the highest larval mortality will likely occur on A. syriaca plants in corn fields or within 3 m of the edge of a transgenic corn field. We conclude that the ecological effects of transgenic insecticidal crops need to be evaluated more fully before they are planted over extensive areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-248
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank Dr. Orley Taylor, University of Kansas, for D. plexippus eggs, plant material, and guidance in rearing D. plexippus, Dr. Les Lewis, USDA-ARS, for assistance with the O. nubilalis bioassay, Kari Jovaag and Daniel Nordman, Iowa State University, for assistance with statistical analysis, Dr. John Losey, Cornell University, and Dr. Thomas Baker, Iowa State University, for their critical review of an earlier version of this manuscript, Justin Grodnitzky and Jason Belden for help with the ELISA, and John Ohlfest for technical help. Laura Hansen was supported by a Graduate Research Assistantship from the Department of Entomology, Iowa State University and an EPA STAR Fellowship. Journal paper No. J-18503 of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Ames, Iowa. Project No. 3437, and supported by Hatch Act and State of Iowa funds.


  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • Bt corn
  • Danaus plexippus
  • Risk assessment
  • Transgenic pollen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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