Neonicotinoid insecticides alter induced defenses and increase susceptibility to spider mites in distantly related crop plants. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Chemical suppression of arthropod herbivores is the most common approach to plant protection. Insecticides, however, can cause unintended, adverse consequences for non-target organisms. Previous studies focused on the effects of pesticides on target and non-target pests, predatory arthropods, and concomitant ecological disruptions. Little research, however, has focused on the direct effects of insecticides on plants. Here we demonstrate that applications of neonicotinoid insecticides, one of the most important insecticide classes worldwide, suppress expression of important plant defense genes, alter levels of phytohormones involved in plant defense, and decrease plant resistance to unsusceptible herbivores, spider mites Tetranychus urticae (Acari: Tetranychidae), in multiple, distantly related crop plants. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Using cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), corn (Zea mays) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) plants, we show that transcription of phenylalanine ammonia lyase, coenzyme A ligase, trypsin protease inhibitor and chitinase are suppressed and concentrations of the phytohormone OPDA and salicylic acid were altered by neonicotinoid insecticides. Consequently, the population growth of spider mites increased from 30% to over 100% on neonicotinoid-treated plants in the greenhouse and by nearly 200% in the field experiment. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our findings are important because applications of neonicotinoid insecticides have been associated with outbreaks of spider mites in several unrelated plant species. More importantly, this is the first study to document insecticide-mediated disruption of plant defenses and link it to increased population growth of a non-target herbivore. This study adds to growing evidence that bioactive agrochemicals can have unanticipated ecological effects and suggests that the direct effects of insecticides on plant defenses should be considered when the ecological costs of insecticides are evaluated.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 59.78

author list (cited authors)

  • Szczepaniec, A., Raupp, M. J., Parker, R. D., Kerns, D., & Eubanks, M. D.

citation count

  • 62

complete list of authors

  • Szczepaniec, Adrianna||Raupp, Michael J||Parker, Roy D||Kerns, David||Eubanks, Micky D

editor list (cited editors)

  • Vontas, J.

publication date

  • May 2013