Oviposition site preference of lacewings in maize ecosystems and the effect of Bt maize on Chrysoperla pudica (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae)
Resistance development and possible non–target effects have been of concern since the first deployment of genetically modified crops with insecticidal properties. It is especially at the third trophic level and with important predators such as lacewings (Chrysoperla spp.) (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) where negative effects of Cry 1Ab protein could have adverse effects in agro–ecosystems. Monitoring of the effect of genetically modified Bt maize on non–target organisms is required by law in South–Africa. Neuroptera are excellent indicators of environmental and habitat transformation, and also include key species for signifying areas and faunas that require priority protection. Monitoring techniques, especially for insect eggs, are often labour intensive and time consuming. A study was conducted to determine the preferred oviposition site of Chrysoperla spp. on maize plants to facilitate time–effective searching for eggs of these beneficial insects. Furthermore we determined if the presence of aphids on plants influenced Chrysoperla spp. oviposition preference. Another study was conducted to evaluate the effect of indirect exposure of C. pudica to Cry 1Ab protein, through healthy Bt–maize feeding prey, on its biology. Daily flight activity patterns and the height at which chrysopid adults fly above the crop canopy were also determined, as well as the movement of adult Chrysoperla spp. between maize fields and adjacent headlands. A clear spatial oviposition pattern was observed on maize plants and oviposition was not random as reported in earlier studies. This data facilitates rapid monitoring of the presence of eggs in maize cropping systems and is also of use in general pest management. Choicetest data showed that females responded positively to host plants that were infested with aphids. Feeding studies in which C. pudica larvae were indirectly exposed to Bt–toxin at the 3rd trophic level, showed a limited effect of Bt–toxin on only a few of the parameters that were evaluated. The pupal period and percentage adult emergence of larvae exposed to an unusually high amount of Bt–toxin was significantly shorter and lower respectively than that of the control group. The overall result of this study, in which the possible effect of food quality (prey) was excluded, showed that Cry 1Ab protein had an adverse affect only on certain fitness components during the life cycle of C. pudica. However, since this study represented a worst–case scenario where diverse prey was not available to C. pudica, negligible effects is expected under field conditions where prey is more diverse. It was determined that chrysopids was most active between 16:00 – 23:00 and that they fly largely between 0.5 m – 2.5 m above ground level. An attempt was also made to quantify migration between different vegetations types. This part was terminated because of bad weather conditions at several occasions when the experiment was attempted. Chrysopids were never present in grassland vegetation, but an adjacent lucerne field maintained a large population. As the maize crop developed chrysopid population numbers increased inside the field, presumably originating from the lucerne field.