In South Africa, modified Bt (Cryl Ac) cotton cultivars and organic ones coexist. This raises the question of the risk of dissemination of genetically modified (GM) pollen to non-GM crops by visiting insects. We inventoried the flower-visiting insects in Bt and non-Bt cotton fields of the South African Highveld region and investigated their role in pollen dispersal. Their diversity and abundance varied slightly among sites, with Astylus atromaculatus as the predominant insect on both Bt and non-Bt cotton flowers. The other major flower-visiting species were Apis mellifera and solitary Apidae. No differences were found in the abundance of each taxum between Bt and non-Bt cotton except for Scoliidae and Nitidulidae, which were scarce overall (<0.5%) but more abundant on the non-Bt flowers in the central area of the field at one site. The pollen load on A. atromaculatus was as high as on Apis mellifera. Cage tests showed that A. atromaculatus can pollinate female cotton plants by transferring pollen from male donor plants. In the field, the flight range of this insect was generally short (25 m), but it can occasionally reach up to 200 m or even more. This study therefore highlights that A. atromaculatus, commonly regarded as a pest, could be an unexpected but efficient pollinator. Because its population density can be high, this species could mediate unwanted cotton pollen flow when distances between coexiting fields are not sufficient.
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