Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Corn is a dominating feature in the landscape of the Midwestern United States. Associated with this crop are a plethora of products from fertilizers to pesticides that help farmers maximize grain yield while minimizing costs. A widely accepted form of protection from major pests in the United States is genetically modified corn that has been altered so that it contains genetic material from another species, a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner (Bt corn), in order to produce proteins that are toxic to some insect pests. Additional insecticides that are commonly used to protect corn include a neonicotinoid seed coating, clothianidin, and a pyrethroid insecticide applied in-furrow, tefluthrin. The goal of my dissertation was to measure the environmental fate of the Cry1Ab Bt corn protein, clothianidin, and tefluthrin and determine if measured concentrations could be causing effects to non-target species. The Cry1Ab proteins persisted only during the corn growing season in soil, runoff water and sediment with the highest concentrations measured during pollination. Clothianidin was detected in all matrices and remained persistent throughout the year in soil pore water. Tefluthrin was consistently detected in soil, runoff water, and runoff sediment during the corn growing season, but was not found in groundwater or soil pore water. No acute toxicity was observed to any species when exposed to the Cry1Ab protein in corn plant leaf tissue, therefore little risk was anticipated. Non-target species exposed to clothianidin resulted in limited ecological risk from field exposures. Tefluthrin results indicated elevated risk for non-target species exposed to tefluthrin at concentrations that were measured in the field study. There was no increase in toxicity to tefluthrin when non-target species were exposed to a combination of all three insecticides. In summary, the genetically modified corn insecticidal proteins and clothianidin were not found at environmental concentrations exceeding benchmark values for ecological effects, but tefluthrin was consistently detected in the environment at levels that could be causing toxicity to non-target species, especially if it is able to travel off-site.
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