Genetically Engineered Plants, Endangered Species, and Risk: A Temporal and Spatial Exposure Assessment for Karner Blue Butterfly Larvae and Bt Maize Pollen


*Address correspondence to Robert K. D. Peterson, Dept. of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, 334 Leon Johnson Hall, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT 59717-3120; tel: 406-994-7927; fax: 406-994-3933;


Genetically engineered maize (Zea mays) containing insecticidal endotoxin proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) δ-endotoxin proteins has been adopted widely in the Midwestern United States. The proteins are toxic to several lepidopteran species and because a variety of maize tissues, including pollen, may express the endotoxins, the probability of exposure to nontarget species, including endangered species, needs to be understood. The objective of this study was to assess the potential temporal and spatial exposure of endangered Karner blue butterfly larvae (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) to Bt maize pollen in Wisconsin using probabilistic exposure techniques and geographic information systems analysis. Based on degree-day modeling of butterfly phenology and maize pollen shed, there is some potential for temporal exposure of larvae to maize pollen. However, in the majority of years and locations, maize pollen shed most likely will occur after the majority of larval feeding on wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). The spatial analysis indicates that some Karner blue butterfly populations occur in close proximity to maize fields, but in the vast majority of cases the butterfly's host plant and maize fields are separated by more than 500 m. A small number of potential or existing Karner blue butterfly sites are located near maize fields, including sites in two of the four counties where temporal overlap is most likely. The exposure assessment indicates that these two counties should receive the highest priority to determine if Karner blue butterfly larvae are actually at risk and then, if needed, to reduce or prevent exposure.