Effects of Bt crop residues on the development, growth, and reproduction of the freshwater snail, Bulinus tropicus
Genetically modified (GM) crops were introduced in South Africa in 1989 and commercially available by 1998. Legislation to control the use of GM crops was only implemented in 1999, with the genetically modified organisms (GMO) act (15 of 1999). In 2012 2.9 million ha of GM crops were planted in South Africa alone. GM Crops, such as Bt maize, are promoted as safer for the environment since no chemical pesticides are needed. However, recently GM crops have been making headlines as more and more studies find adverse effects of these crops on non-target organisms. The effects on aquatic environments have not yet been fully determined, even though traces of Bt residue have been found in water systems surrounding agricultural lands. The aim of this study was to establish the effects of the Bt toxin on fecundity, development and growth of Bulinus tropicus, a freshwater snail. The experiment made use of a static renewal tests to expose B. tropicus to 50 cm2 Bt maize and cotton leaves in 900 ml of synthetic freshwater. The snails were exposed for the duration of one full life cycle (embryo to adult). Endpoints measured included the development, growth, fecundity, and deformities of the reproductive organs. The results obtained showed retarded development and low embryo survival when the snails were exposed to cotton leaves, irrespective of the presence or absence of Bt, indicating to the possibility of trace residues of chemical pesticides may have been present on the leaves. Initial stimulated growth of hatchlings was observed for both Bt cotton and maize exposures, but after sexual maturity has been reached, ‘surplus’ energy was probably shared between growth and fecundity, resulting in a reduction of growth rate. Energy is gained from their diet, thus a sub-optimal diet would result in less energy available to functions such as growth and fecundity. Signs of developmental instability were found in the formation of the shell opening of the snails exposed to Bt. Fecundity decreased significantly after snails had been exposed to Bt maize / cotton leaves. No differences were found in the penis sheath-preputium length ratio, indicating that Bt had no deleterious effects on the reproductive organs.