Field decomposition of transgenic Bt maize residue and the impact on non-target soil invertebrates
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Genetically modified Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner (Bt) maize (Zea mays L.) expressing Cry toxins against various target pests is now grown on more than 16 million hectares worldwide, but its potential effects on the soil ecosystem need to be further investigated. In an 8-month field study, we investigated the effects of Bt maize expressing the Cry1Ab protein on both the soil community and maize residue decomposition. We used litterbags with three different mesh sizes (20, 125, and 5,000 μm) to investigate potential effects of different soil organism groups on the decomposition processes. Litterbags were incorporated into the soil in fall into a field that had previously been planted with non-Bt maize and subsamples were removed monthly. The dry weight of the remaining residue was measured for all bags. Bt and non-Bt maize decomposed similarly in large mesh bags, which allowed the whole soil organism community to enter and interact with each other. In contrast, Bt maize decomposed significantly faster than non-Bt maize at some sample dates in winter in bags with small and medium mesh sizes. At the end of the experiment in late spring, however, there was no significant difference in the amount of maize plant residues remaining for any of these three mesh sizes. Additionally, soil organisms from bags with the largest mesh size were identified. The most frequent taxa extracted were collembolans (Isotomidae, Tullbergiidae, Entomobryidae), mites (Gamasina, Oribatida), and annelids (Enchytraeidae). Three of these taxa were extracted in higher numbers from non-Bt than Bt residue (Tullbergiidae, Gamasina, Enchytraeidae), while there was no difference in the number of individuals extracted for the remaining three taxa. Our results do not show major changes in the decomposition of Bt maize residue and in the composition of the soil organism community. However, further studies are needed that assess the impact of the continuous release of Cry1Ab via root exudates and plant biomass on the soil ecosystem.