Corn and other crops genetically modified to express the insecticidal δ-endotoxin from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are grown widely across north America. Studies have shown that the δ-endotoxin can be stabilised on soil colloids where its activity is retained, but reports of direct ecological effects of the δ-endotoxin on soil processes are limited. We have determined the concentrations of the δ-endotoxin in organic residues from Bt-corn plants at increasing stages of ageing and decay, and the subsequent decomposition in soil of these residues and the δ-endotoxin in them. The δ-endotoxin concentrations declined from 6.8 μg g-1 in the fresh plant material, to 0.82 μg g-1 in the post-harvest residues collected in the fall, and to 0.026 μg g-1 in the residues collected from soil surface the following spring. The concentration of δ-endotoxin in buried residues collected in the spring was not significantly different from zero. When incubated in soil in the laboratory over 84 d, the δ-endotoxin decomposed more rapidly than bulk plant C by factors of 1.85 for the fresh plant materials and 3.21 for the post-harvest residues. Within 14 d of incubation, the δ-endotoxin concentration in the residues collected at the soil surface was below the limit of detection. We contrasted the laboratory decomposition data with data from a field experiment to estimate the period that the δ-endotoxin in corn residues may survive in the field. Based on estimates derived from this comparison, we predict that following an October harvest in eastern Ontario the δ-endotoxin would fall below the detection threshold during November for post-harvest residues. Since stabilisation of the δ-endotoxin on soil colloids depends on it surviving (i.e., not being decomposed) for long enough to be released from the plant residue matrix and come into proximity with colloid surfaces, the rapid decay of the δ-endotoxin suggests that only a small fraction of the δ-endotoxin from post-harvest residues persists long enough to become stabilised in the field.
- Crop residue decomposition