Transgenic virus resistance in cultivated squash affects pollinator behaviour.
Two ecological risks associated with the use of transgenic crops are transgene movement into wild populations and effects on non-target organisms, such as pollinators. Despite the importance of pollinators, and their contribution to the global food supply, little is known about how they are affected by transgenic crops. Pollinator preferences affect plant mating patterns; thus understanding the effects of transgenic crops on pollinators will aid in understanding transgene movement. Honey bee and squash bee visit number and duration were recorded on conventional and transgenic virus-resistant squash Cucurbita pepo planted in a randomized block design. Floral characters were measured to explain differences in pollinator behaviour. The effect of Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus infection on pollinator behaviour was also examined. Honey bees visited female conventional flowers more than female transgenic flowers. Conventional flowers were generally larger with more nectar than transgenic flowers, although floral traits did not account for differences in pollinator visitation. Squash bees visited male transgenic flowers more than male conventional flowers; squash bees also spent more time in female transgenic flowers than in female conventional flowers. Transgenic flowers were significantly larger with greater amounts of sweeter nectar and they were present in greater number. Floral traits accounted for some of the variation in pollinator visitation. Squash bee visit number and duration did not differ between virus-infected and healthy plants, but this may be because pollinator behaviour was observed early in the virus infection. Synthesis and applications. Pollinator behaviour controls patterns of plant mating thus non-target effects of transgenic resistance, such as those observed here, may influence transgene movement into wild populations. These results suggest that transgenic crops should not be planted within the native range of wild relatives because pleiotropic effects may affect crop-wild hybridization and transgene introgression into wild populations.