Neonicotinoid insecticidal seed-treatment on corn contaminates interseeded cover crops intended as habitat for beneficial insects

  • Michael M. Bredeson
  • Jonathan G. LundgrenEmail author


Neonicotinoid seed treatments are extensively used to systemically protect corn from invertebrate herbivory. Interseeding cover crops can promote beneficial insect communities and their ecosystem services such as predation on pests, and this practice is gaining interest from farmers. In this study, cereal rye (Secale cereale) and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) were planted between rows of early vegetative corn that had been seed-treated with thiamethoxam. Thiamethoxam and its insecticidal metabolite, clothianidin were quantified in cover crop leaves throughout the growing season. Thiamethoxam was present in cereal rye at concentrations ranging from 0 to 0.33 ± 0.09 ng/g of leaf tissue and was detected on six out of seven collection dates. Cereal rye leaves contained clothianidin at concentrations from 1.05 ± 0.22 to 2.61 ± 0.24 ng/g and was present on all sampling dates. Both thiamethoxam and clothianidin were detected in hairy vetch on all sampling dates at rates ranging from 0.10 ± 0.05 to 0.51 ± 0.11 ng/g and 0.56 ± 0.15 to 9.73 ± 5.04 ng/g of leaf tissue, respectively. Clothianidin was measured at a higher concentration than its precursor, thiamethoxam, in both plant species on every sampling date. Neonicotinoids entering interseeded cover crops from adjacent treated plants is a newly discovered route of exposure and potential hazard for non-target beneficial invertebrates. Future research efforts should examine the effects of systemic insecticides on biological communities in agroecosystems whose goal is to diversify plant communities using methods such as cover cropping.


Clothianidin Insecticide Thiamethoxam Non-targets Risk assessment Zea mays 



We thank Kassidy Weathers, Nicole Schultz, Cedric Gentils, Liz Adee, Tommy Fenster and Alex Nikolaus for their assistance in plant tissue collection and sample processing. Mark Longfellow assisted with ELISA development.


This research was supported by general funds from Ecdysis Foundation, and grant support from Threshold Foundation, Globetrotter Foundation, and by support from farmers, ranchers, and beekeepers around the world.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

MMB is employed by Ecdysis Foundation and South Dakota State University. JGL was formerly employed by USDA and is the Director for Ecdysis Foundation and CEO for Blue Dasher Farm. We have not received any research support or financial contributions from companies mentioned in this manuscript.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10646_2018_2015_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (90 kb)
Supplementary Information


  1. Ainsley J, Paul H, Gordon T (2014) Neonicotinoid concentrations in arable soils after seed treatment applications in preceding years. Pest Manag Sci 70:1780–1784. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alliaume F, Rossing WAH, Tittonell P, Jorge G, Dogliotti S (2014) Reduced tillage and cover crops improve water capture and reduce erosion of fine textured soils in raised bed tomato systems. Agric Ecosyst Environ 183:127–137. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashworth A et al. (2017) N2 fixation of common and hairy vetches when intercropped into switchgrass. Agronomy 7:39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barbosa P (1998) Conservation biological control. Academic Press, San Diego, London, Boston, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, TorontoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bode WM, Calvin DD (1990) Yield-loss relationships and economic injury levels for European corn borer (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae) populations infesting Pennsylvania field corn. J Econ Entomol 83:1595–1603. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Botías C, David A, Horwood J, Abdul-Sada A, Nicholls E, Hill E, Goulson D (2015) Neonicotinoid residues in wildflowers, a potential route of chronic exposure for bees. Environ Sci Technol 49:12731–12740. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bredeson MM, Lundgren JG (2015) Thiamethoxam seed treatments have no impact on pest numbers or yield in cultivated sunflowers. J Econ Entomol.
  8. Bredeson MM, Lundgren JG (2018) Thiamethoxam seed treatments reduce foliar predator and pollinator populations in sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), and extra-floral nectaries as a route of exposure for seed treatments to affect the predator, Coleomegilla maculata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae). Crop Prot 106:86–92. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bredeson MM, Reese RN, Lundgren JG (2015) The effects of insecticide dose and herbivore density on tri-trophic effects of thiamethoxam in a system involving wheat, aphids, and ladybeetles. Crop Prot 69:70–76. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cowles RS, Eitzer BD (2017) Residues of neonicotinoid insecticides in pollen and nectar from model plants. J Environ Hortic 35:24–34. Google Scholar
  11. David A, Botias C, Abdula-Sada A, Nicholls E, Rotheray E, Hill E, Goulson D (2016) Widespread contamination of wildflower and bee-collected pollen with complex mixtures of neonicotinoids and fungicides commonly applied to crops. Environ Int 88:169–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. den Hollander NG, Bastiaans L, Kropff MJ (2007) Clover as a cover crop for weed suppression in an intercropping design: II. Competitive ability of several clover species. Eur J Agron 26:104–112. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Douglas MR, Rohr JR, Tooker JF (2015) EDITOR’S CHOICE: neonicotinoid insecticide travels through a soil food chain, disrupting biological control of non-target pests and decreasing soya bean yield. J Appl Ecol 52:250–260. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Douglas MR, Tooker JF (2015) Large-scale deployment of seed treatments has driven rapid increase in use of neonicotinoid insecticides and preemptive pest management in US field crops. Environ Sci Technol 49:5088–5097CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gontijo PC, Moscardini VF, Michaud JP, Carvalho GA (2014) Non-target effects of chlorantraniliprole and thiamethoxam on Chrysoperla carnea when employed as sunflower seed treatments. J Pest Sci 87:711–719. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gontijo PC, Moscardini VF, Michaud JP, Carvalho GA (2015) Non-target effects of two sunflower seed treatments on Orius insidiosus (Hemiptera: Anthocoridae). Pest Manag Sci 71:515–522. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goulson D (2013) REVIEW: an overview of the environmental risks posed by neonicotinoid insecticides. J Appl Ecol 50:977–987. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Haruna S, Nkongolo N, Anderson S, Eivazi F, Zaibon S (2018) In situ infiltration as influenced by cover crop and tillage management. J Soil Water Conserv 73:164–172CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Henry M, Béguin M, Requier F, Rollin O, Odoux J, Aupinel P, Aptel J, Tchamitchian S, Decourtye A (2012) A common pesticide decreases foraging success and survival in honey bees. Science 336:348–350. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jeschke P, Nauen R, Schindler M, Elbert A (2011) Overview of the status and global strategy for neonicotinoids. J Agric Food Chem 59:2897–2908. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Khan ZR, Pickett JA, Wadhams LJ, Hassanali A, Midega CAO (2006) Combined control of Striga hermonthica and stemborers by maize—Desmodium spp. intercrops. Crop Prot 25:989–995. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Krupke CH, Hunt GJ, Eitzer BD, Andino G, Given K (2012) Multiple routes of pesticide exposure for honey bees living near agricultural fields. PLoS One 7:e29268. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. LaCanne CE, Lundgren JG (2018) Regenerative agriculture: merging farming and natural resource conservation profitably. PeerJ 6:e4428. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Landis DA, Wratten SD, Gurr GM (2000) Habitat management to conserve natural enemies of arthropod pests in agriculture. Annu Rev Entomol 45:175–201. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Laurent FM, Rathahao E (2003) Distribution of [14C]Imidacloprid in sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.) following seed treatment. J Agric Food Chem 51:8005–8010. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Li L, Tilman D, Lambers H, Zhang F-S (2014) Plant diversity and overyielding: insights from belowground facilitation of intercropping in agriculture. New Phytol 203:63–69. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lundgren JG (2009) Relationships of natural enemies and non-prey foods, vol 7. Springer Science & Business Media, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  28. Lundgren JG, Fausti SW (2015) Trading biodiversity for pest problems. Sci Adv. 1.
  29. Lundgren JG, Fergen JK (2014) Predator community structure and trophic linkage strength to a focal prey. Mol Ecol 23:3790–3798CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maluleke MH, Addo-Bediako A, Ayisi KK (2005) Influence of maize/Lablab intercropping on Lepidopterous stem borer infestation in maize. J Econ Entomol 98:384–388. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Manandhar R, Wright MG (2016) Effects of interplanting flowering plants on the biological control of corn earworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) and thrips (Thysanoptera: Thripidae) in sweet corn. J Econ Entomol 109:113–119. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McNaughton KG, Jarvis PG (1991) Effects of spatial scale on stomatal control of transpiration. Agric For Meteorol 54:279–302. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Mogren CL, Lundgren JG (2016) Neonicotinoid-contaminated pollinator strips adjacent to cropland reduce honey bee nutritional status. Sci Rep. 6:29608.
  34. Moser SE, Obrycki JJ (2009) Non-target effects of neonicotinoid seed treatments; mortality of coccinellid larvae related to zoophytophagy. Biol Control 51:487–492. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. [NASS] National Agricultural Statistics Service (2011). Quick stats. US Department of Agriculture, NASS, Washington, DC. Accessed 3 May 2018.Google Scholar
  36. Nauen R, Ebbinghaus-Kintscher U, Salgado VL, Kaussmann M (2003) Thiamethoxam is a neonicotinoid precursor converted to clothianidin in insects and plants. Pestic Biochem Physiol 76:55–69. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Orr DB, Landis DA, Mutch DR, Manley GV, Stuby SA, King RL (1997) Ground cover influence on microclimate and Trichogramma (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) augmentation in seed corn production. Environ Entomol 26:433–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pecenka JR, Lundgren JG (2015) Non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies. Sci Nat 102:1–4. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pisa L, Goulson D, Yang E, Gibbons D, Sanchez-Bayo F, Mitchell E, Aebi A, van der Sluijs J, MacQuarrie C, Giorio C, Yim Long E, McField M, van Lexmond M, Bonmatin J (2017). An update of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA) on systemic insecticides. Part 2: impacts on organisms and ecosystems. Environ Sci Pollut Res 1–49.
  40. Prabhaker N, Naranjo S, Perring T, Castle S (2017) Comparative toxicities of newer and conventional insecticides: against four generalist predator species. J Econ Entomol 110:2630–2636. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sandrock C, Tanadini LG, Pettis JS, Biesmeijer JC, Potts SG, Neumann P (2014) Sublethal neonicotinoid insecticide exposure reduces solitary bee reproductive success. Agric For Entomol 16:119–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. SARE-CTIC (2016). Cover crop survey: 2015–2016 annual report. Conservation Technology Information Center, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, American Seed Trade Association. Accessed 3 May 2018.
  43. Schmidt R, Gravuer K, Bossange AV, Mitchell J, Scow K (2018) Long-term use of cover crops and no-till shift soil microbial community life strategies in agricultural soil. PLoS One 13:e0192953. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. [SDSU] South Dakota State University (2018) South Dakota pest management guide: corn. Accessed 3 May 2018.
  45. Seagraves MP, Lundgren JG (2012) Effects of neonicitinoid seed treatments on soybean aphid and its natural enemies. J Pest Sci 85:125–132. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Simon-Delso N et al. (2015) Systemic insecticides (neonicotinoids and fipronil): trends, uses, mode of action and metabolites. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22:5–34. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tabashnik BE (2010) Communal benefits of transgenic corn. Science 330:189–190. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Wilcoxen CA, Walk JW, Ward MP (2018) Use of cover crop fields by migratory and resident birds. Agric Ecosyst Environ 252:42–50. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Natural Resource ManagementSouth Dakota State UniversityBrookingsUSA
  2. 2.Ecdysis FoundationEstellineUSA

Personalised recommendations