Refuge or Reservoir? The Potential Impacts of the Biofuel Crop Miscanthus x giganteus on a Major Pest of Maize

Interest in the cultivation of biomass crops like the C4 grass Miscanthus x giganteus (Miscanthus) is increasing as global demand for biofuel grows. In the US, Miscanthus is promoted as a crop well-suited to the Corn Belt where it could be cultivated on marginal land interposed with maize and soybean. Interactions (direct and indirect) of Miscanthus, maize, and the major Corn Belt pest of maize, the western corn rootworm, (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera LeConte, WCR) are unknown. Adding a perennial grass/biomass crop to this system is concerning since WCR is adapted to the continuous availability of its grass host, maize (Zea mays).

Methodology/Principal Findings

In a greenhouse and field study, we investigated WCR development and oviposition on Miscanthus. The suitability of Miscanthus for WCR development varied across different WCR populations. Data trends indicate that WCR populations that express behavioural resistance to crop rotation performed as well on Miscanthus as on maize. Over the entire study, total adult WCR emergence from Miscanthus (212 WCR) was 29.6% of that from maize (717 WCR). Adult dry weight was 75–80% that of WCR from maize; female emergence patterns on Miscanthus were similar to females developing on maize. There was no difference in the mean no. of WCR eggs laid at the base of Miscanthus and maize in the field.


Field oviposition and significant WCR emergence from Miscanthus raises many questions about the nature of likely interactions between Miscanthus, maize and WCR and the potential for Miscanthus to act as a refuge or reservoir for Corn Belt WCR. Responsible consideration of the benefits and risks associated with Corn Belt Miscanthus are critical to protecting an agroecosystem that we depend on for food, feed, and increasingly, fuel. Implications for European agroecosystems in which Miscanthus is being proposed are also discussed in light of the WCR’s recent invasion into Europe.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Spencer JL, Raghu S (2009) Refuge or Reservoir? The Potential Impacts of the Biofuel Crop Miscanthus x giganteus on a Major Pest of Maize. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8336. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008336

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