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Responses of plants and invertebrate trophic groups to contrasting herbicide regimes in the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide–tolerant crops

C. Hawes, A. J. Haughton, J. L. Osborne, D. B. Roy, S. J. Clark, J. N. Perry, P. Rothery, D. A. Bohan, D. R. Brooks, G. T. Champion, A. M. Dewar, M. S. Heard, I. P. Woiwod, R. E. Daniels, M. W. Young, A. M. Parish, R. J. Scott, L. G. Firbank, G. R. Squire


Effects of genetically modified herbicide–tolerant (GMHT) and conventional crop management on invertebrate trophic groups (herbivores, detritivores, pollinators, predators and parasitoids) were compared in beet, maize and spring oilseed rape sites throughout the UK. These trophic groups were influenced by season, crop species and GMHT management. Many groups increased twofold to fivefold in abundance between early and late summer, and differed up to 10–fold between crop species. GMHT management superimposed relatively small (less than twofold), but consistent, shifts in plant and insect abundance, the extent and direction of these effects being dependent on the relative efficacies of comparable conventional herbicide regimes. In general, the biomass of weeds was reduced under GMHT management in beet and spring oilseed rape and increased in maize compared with conventional treatments. This change in resource availability had knock–on effects on higher trophic levels except in spring oilseed rape where herbivore resource was greatest. Herbivores, pollinators and natural enemies changed in abundance in the same directions as their resources, and detritivores increased in abundance under GMHT management across all crops. The result of the later herbicide application in GMHT treatments was a shift in resource from the herbivore food web to the detritivore food web. The Farm Scale Evaluations have demonstrated over 3 years and throughout the UK that herbivores, detritivores and many of their predators and parasitoids in arable systems are sensitive to the changes in weed communities that result from the introduction of new herbicide regimes.

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