Stalk rots, caused by a complex of fungal species, are among the most widespread and destructive diseases of maize. Larvae of the European corn borer (ECB) (Ostrinia nubilalis) promote stalk rot development by creating entry points for fungi, serving as vectors of pathogens, and causing physiological stress that may predispose plants to stalk decay. Field experiments were conducted in 1998, 1999, and 2000 to determine whether the use of transgenic Bt hybrids expressing insecticidal proteins would influence stalk rot symptoms (pith disintegration, pith discoloration, and lodging). Five hybrids representing different Bt types (or “Bt events”) (176, BT11, MON810, DBT418, and CBH351) were paired with their near-isogenic, non-Bt counterparts and subjected to treatments of manual and natural infestation with ECB larvae. Manual infestation resulted in significantly more ECB tunneling than natural infestation in 1998 and 1999 and significantly more lodging in 1998. There were significant linear correlations between ECB injury and stalk rot symptoms in non-Bt hybrids in 1998 and 1999, but not in 2000. A standard foliar insecticide treatment for ECB did not significantly affect stalk rot symptoms. In 1998, Bt hybrids had significantly less ECB tunneling, stalk discoloration, pith disintegration, and lodging compared with non-Bt hybrids, but these effects depended upon the Bt event and the infestation treatment. Similar but less pronounced effects of Bt events were observed in 1999. The 2000 results were more variable; the amount of pith disintegration was significantly lower but discoloration was significantly higher in the BT11 hybrid compared with its non-Bt counterpart, and the amount of lodging was significantly higher in the event 176 hybrid compared with its non-Bt counterpart. The ratio of stalk strength to grain weight did not consistently differ between Bt and non-Bt hybrids. These results indicate that, although specific Bt events in some years may cause reductions in stalk rot, the overall effect of Bt transformation on stalk rot occurrence is highly variable.
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