Strong fitness costs of fall armyworm resistance to dual-gene Bt maize are magnified on less-suitable host-crop cultivars.
We examined the fitness costs of resistance to transgenic Cry1A.105+Cry2Ab2 Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize in the fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, a globally invasive pest species. Using Bt-resistant and -susceptible populations of similar genetic backgrounds, we compared insect life-history traits and population growth rates on the foliage of Bt or non-Bt cultivars of maize, soybean, and cotton. We found that (i) the resistance alleles led to a major reduction in insect fitness on seven of the eight cultivars of three host crops studied; (ii) developmental time was the life-history trait that accounted for most of the fitness variation of the armyworm, and (iii) the magnitude of fitness reduction of the resistant individuals was stronger on cotton foliage, on which the insects did not pass the resistance alleles to subsequent generations. These results show that fall armyworm resistance to Cry1A.105+Cry2Ab2-expressing Bt maize comes with strong fitness costs, which were magnified on less-suitable host plants for the insects. Thus, natural selection may help maintain or even restore the insect susceptibility to the pesticidal proteins and perhaps is a significant factor helping manage fall armyworm resistance to Cry1A.105+Cry2Ab2 Bt maize. These findings indicate that fitness costs of insect resistance to multi-toxin Bt crops can be strong, and host plants or conditions that magnify the fitness differential of susceptible insects could be specifically deployed with refuge to improve resistance management to Bt crops.