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The effect of Bt crops on soil invertebrates: a systematic review and quantitative meta-analysis

Abstract

The ongoing debate about the ecological effects of Bt-crops calls for thorough reviews about the impact on soil biodiversity and their ecosystem services. Transgenic Bt-crops have been genetically modified by inserting a Bacillus thuriengensis gene so the plant expresses a Cry toxin aimed for insect crop pests. Non-target soil invertebrates are particularly recognized for their contribution to plant nutrient availability and turnover of organic matter and it is therefore relevant to protect these invertebrate taxa. A number of studies have compared the population abundance and biomass of soil invertebrates in agricultural fields planted with genetically modified Bt crops and their conventional counterparts. Here, were review and analyze a selection of studies on Protista, nematodes, Collembola, mites, enchytraeids, and earthworms systematically to empower the evidence for asking the question whether population abundances and biomasses of soil invertebrates are changed by Bt crops compared to conventional crops. 6110 titles were captured, of which 38 studies passed our inclusion criteria, and a final number of 22 publications were subject to data extraction. A database with 2046 records was compiled covering 36 locations and the Bt types Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, Cry3Bb1 and Cry3Aa. Comparative effect sizes in terms of Hedges’ g were calculated irrespectively of statistical significance of effects of the source studies. Cry effects on populations were compared across the studies in a meta-analysis employing a hierarchical Bayesian approach of weighted data according to the level of replication. The temporal development of effect sizes was modelled, thereby taking into account the variable duration of the field experiments. There was considerable variation among soil invertebrate orders, but the sample size was insufficient and the sample heterogeneity too large to draw any credible conclusions on the effect of Cry at the order level. However, across orders there was no significant effect of Cry on soil invertebrates.

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Availability of data and materials

The datasets supporting the conclusions of this article are available as additional files.

Abbreviations

Bt :

Bacillus thuringiensis

GM:

Genetically modified

EU:

European Union

EFSA:

European Food Safety Authority

SR:

Systematic review

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Petya Christova, AgroBioInstitute, Sofia, Bulgaria, for assistance with the screening of the papers, EU for funding the project and would like to thank all project partners of GRACE for the productive collaboration.

Funding

This review was funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme (EU FP7-KBBE/311957): KBBE.2012.3.5-04-Verification of GMO risk assessment elements and review and communication of evidence collected on the biosafety of GMO.

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Correspondence to Christian Frølund Damgaard.

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Krogh, P.H., Kostov, K. & Damgaard, C.F. The effect of Bt crops on soil invertebrates: a systematic review and quantitative meta-analysis. Transgenic Res 29, 487–498 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11248-020-00213-y

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Keywords

  • Bt crops
  • Non-target organisms
  • Soil invertebrates
  • Population changes
  • Meta-analysis