Can the growing of transgenic maize threaten protected Lepidoptera in Europe?

Gábor L. Lövei, Andreas Lang, Marco Ferrante, Victor Bacle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We evaluated whether protected European butterflies can potentially be at risk if transgenic maize is extensively grown in Central Europe. We explored potential consequences of both insect resistant (IR) and herbicide resistant (HR) transgenic maize. IR maize can produce pollen that is toxic to lepidopteran larvae, and this puts butterfly species at possible risk if the presence of young larvae coincides with maize flowering, during which large quantities of maize pollen can be deposited on vegetation. By considering the timing of maize flowering in Europe and the phenology of the protected Lepidoptera species, we found that 31 species had at least one generation where 50% of the larval stage overlapped with maize flowering, and 69 species for which first instar larvae were present during maize pollen shedding. HR maize allows high concentration herbicide treatments on fields without seasonal limitation, which can drastically reduce weed densities. In cases where such weed species are host plants for protected butterflies, reduced host plant/food availability can result, causing population decreases. By using published information, we first identified the important weed species in major maize-growing European countries. Subsequently, we checked whether the host plants of protected Lepidoptera included species that are common maize weeds. We identified 140 protected species having food plants that are common weeds in one or more of the major European maize-growing countries. If HR maize is grown in Europe, there is a potential hazard that their food plants will seriously decline, causing a subsequent decline of these protected species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1159-1168
Number of pages10
JournalInsect Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • GM crop
  • butterflies
  • conservation
  • environmental risk
  • food plants
  • pollen toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Insect Science


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