Experimental evidence that wildflower strips increase pollinator visits to crops.
ABSTRACT: Wild bees provide a free and potentially diverse ecosystem service to farmers growing pollination-dependent crops. While many crops benefit from insect pollination, soft fruit crops, including strawberries are highly dependent on this ecosystem service to produce viable fruit. However, as a result of intensive farming practices and declining pollinator populations, farmers are increasingly turning to commercially reared bees to ensure that crops are adequately pollinated throughout the season. Wildflower strips are a commonly used measure aimed at the conservation of wild pollinators. It has been suggested that commercial crops may also benefit from the presence of noncrop flowers; however, the efficacy and economic benefits of sowing flower strips for crops remain relatively unstudied. In a study system that utilizes both wild and commercial pollinators, we test whether wildflower strips increase the number of visits to adjacent commercial strawberry crops by pollinating insects. We quantified this by experimentally sowing wildflower strips approximately 20 meters away from the crop and recording the number of pollinator visits to crops with, and without, flower strips. Between June and August 2013, we walked 292 crop transects at six farms in Scotland, recording a total of 2826 pollinators. On average, the frequency of pollinator visits was 25% higher for crops with adjacent flower strips compared to those without, with a combination of wild and commercial bumblebees (Bombus spp.) accounting for 67% of all pollinators observed. This effect was independent of other confounding effects, such as the number of flowers on the crop, date, and temperature. Synthesis and applications. This study provides evidence that soft fruit farmers can increase the number of pollinators that visit their crops by sowing inexpensive flower seed mixes nearby. By investing in this management option, farmers have the potential to increase and sustain pollinator populations over time.
Project description:Wildflower strips (WFS) are increasingly used to counteract the negative consequences of agricultural intensification. To date, it is poorly understood how WFS promote flower visitation and pollination services in nearby insect-pollinated crops. We therefore ask whether WFS enhance pollination service in adjacent strawberry crops, and how such an effect depends on the distance from WFS. Over 2 years, we examined the effects of experimentally sown WFS compared to grassy strips on pollination services in adjacent strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) crops across a total of 19 study sites. Moreover, we examined flower visitation, species richness and community composition of the most important insect pollinator taxa at different within-field locations varying in distance to WFS. We found increased pollination services at the edge of WFS compared to locally reduced pollination services at the center, which resulted in no significant difference in seed set between WFS and control fields. Total flower visits and species richness of pollinators were higher in WFS than in adjacent strawberry fields. Moreover, wild bee visitation was enhanced in adjacent strawberry crops near WFS compared to field centers, and intermediate at field edges near grassy strips. Our study demonstrates that diverse WFS can increase wild bee visitation and pollination services in the field edges of adjacent strawberry crops, but that overall visitation and pollination services do not increase. Moreover, our findings show that major pollinator taxa exhibit distinct responses, resulting in a shift of pollinator community composition as a function of distance to WFS with direct effects on crop pollination. Our results that WFS enhance rather than reduce crop pollination services near WFS should distract possible concerns by farmers that WFS may locally absorb rather than export crop pollinators. Considering the spatial restricted enhancement of wild bees and associated pollination services we suggest to establish WFS in the center of crop fields.
Project description:Pollinator refuges such as wildflower strips are planted on farms with the goals of mitigating wild pollinator declines and promoting crop pollination services. It is unclear, however, whether or how these goals are impacted by managed honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) hives on farms. We examined how wildflower strips and honey bee hives and/or their interaction influence wild bee communities and the fruit count of two pollinator-dependent crops across 21 farms in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. Although wild bee species richness increased with bloom density within wildflower strips, populations did not differ significantly between farms with and without them whereas fruit counts in both crops increased on farms with wildflower strips during one of 2 years. By contrast, wild bee abundance decreased by 48%, species richness by 20%, and strawberry fruit count by 18% across all farm with honey bee hives regardless of wildflower strip presence, and winter squash fruit count was consistently lower on farms with wildflower strips with hives as well. This work demonstrates that honey bee hives could detrimentally affect fruit count and wild bee populations on farms, and that benefits conferred by wildflower strips might not offset these negative impacts. Keeping honey bee hives on farms with wildflower strips could reduce conservation and pollination services.
Project description:The decline of pollinators in agricultural areas has been observed for some decades, this being partly due to landscape simplification in intensive agrosystems. Diversifying agricultural landscapes by sowing flower strips within fields could reduce these adverse effects on biodiversity. In this context, the study presented here aimed at assessing and comparing the abundance and diversity of bees (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) and hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae) found and visiting flowers in three types of flower strips in Belgium: (i) a mixture of 11 wild flowers, (ii) a monofloral strip of Dimorphoteca pluvialis (Asteraceae) and (iii) a monofloral strip of Camelina sativa (Brassicaceae), where the last two are considered to be intercrops since they are valuable on the market, all sown within a field of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). Pollinators were captured with pan traps and by netting in standardised transects from May to July 2017. One-thousand one-hundred and eighty-four individuals belonging to 43 bee species and 18 hoverfly species were collected. Significant differences in hoverfly diversity were found between the different flower strips. The multifloral treatment supported a greater diversity of syrphid species. Various pollinator species visited the different flowers composing the mixture and also D. pluvialis. The pollinator community proved to be predominantly generalist, with the exception of an oligolectic species in Belgium, Andrena nitidiuscula. Moreover, the three tested flower strips were effective in attracting hoverflies, among them natural enemies of insect pests. This study opens new perspectives in the design of intercropping systems with flower strips towards the design of sustainable agro-ecosystems. Improving economic profitability of sowing flower strips could encourage farmers to diversify their agricultural systems and foster conservation biology strategies.
Project description:Both wild and managed pollinators significantly contribute to global food production by providing pollination services to crops. Colonies of commercially-reared honey bees and bumblebees are two of the largest groups of managed pollinators. Bumblebees in particular are increasingly used on soft fruit crops, such as strawberry, an economically important crop globally. Despite the use of commercial bumblebees in strawberry crops, there is little quantitative evidence that they provide a benefit to farmers. Given the negative impacts that commercial colonies can have on wild bee populations, it is vital that the benefits of commercial bumblebees are quantified, so reasoned management decisions can be made that provide maximum benefit to both farmers and wild bees. In this study, commercial colonies of the UK native subspecies Bombus terrestris audax were placed into June-bearer (flowering March-April, varieties ‘Malling Centenary’ and ‘Flair’) and everbearer (flowering May-June) strawberry polytunnels on a soft-fruit farm in the south east of England, and opened and closed at weekly intervals. The flower-visiting assemblage inside polytunnels was quantified, and fruit was harvested and quality assessed. In the June-bearer variety Malling Centenary, the presence of commercial bumblebees increased the amount of high commercial grade fruit by 25%. In contrast, no benefit of commercial bees on pollination or fruit quality was observed in the June-bearer variety Flair and the everbearer crop. The increase in quality of fruit in the Malling Centenary crop may be driven by the higher B. terrestris audax flower visitation rates seen in this crop in combination with varietal differences in pollination dependency. The number of flower visits by wild pollinators was not a well-supported predictor of strawberry quality, thus the benefit they provide in this system remains to be elucidated. The results presented here suggest that commercial bumblebees can greatly increase the quality and subsequent value of a strawberry crop, when deployed on a suitable variety at a time when wild pollinator numbers are low. However, the results also raise the possibility that commercial colonies do not always provide the benefits to strawberry crops that they are thought to. For growers to make informed decisions on commercial bumblebee use, further research is required into the effect of commercial bumblebees on the major strawberry varieties, in different locations and seasons. This study is an important step in gaining this understanding.
Project description:Planting flower strips adjacent to crops is among the habitat-management practices employed to offer alternative floral resources to pollinators. However, more information is needed to understand their potential spill-over of pollinators on nearby insect-pollinated crops. Over the course of two consecutive years, the suitability of a flower mixture of 10 herbaceous plants for pollinators was evaluated on a weekly basis, in a randomized block design of two melon plots (10 × 10 m2) with or without 1 m-wide flower strips. Floral coverage and pollinator visits to the plant species, as well as pollinator visits and the yield and quality of the crop, were assessed. Additionally, the selected mixture was tested for 1 year in a commercial field in order to ascertain how far the flower strip could influence visitors in the crop. The most suitable species for a flower strip in central Spain based on their attractiveness, floral coverage and staggered blossom were Coriandrum sativum L., Diplotaxis virgata L., Borago officinalis L. and Calendula officinalis L. The flower strip can act as either pollinator competitor or facilitator to the crop, depending on their floral coverage and/or the predominant species during the crop bloom period. The concurrence of blooming of the rewarding plant C. officinalis with the melon crop should be avoided in our area. In the commercial field, the bee visitation rate in the melon flowers decreased with the distance to the flower strip. No influence of the specific flower strip evaluated on crop productivity or quality was found.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Intensively cultivated agricultural landscapes often suffer from substantial pollinator losses, which may be leading to decreasing pollination services for crops and wild flowering plants. Conservation measures that are easy to implement and accepted by farmers are needed to halt a further loss of pollinators in large areas under intensive agricultural management. Here we report the results of a replicated long-term study involving networks of mostly perennial flower strips covering 10% of a conventionally managed agricultural landscape in southwestern Germany. RESULTS:We demonstrate the considerable success of these measures for wild bee and butterfly species richness over an observation period of 5 years. Overall species richness of bees and butterflies but also the numbers of specialist bee species clearly increased in the ecological enhancement areas as compared to the control areas without ecological enhancement measures. A three to five-fold increase in species richness was found after more than 2 years of enhancement of the areas with flower strips. Oligolectic bee species increased significantly only after the third year. CONCLUSIONS:In our long-term field experiment we used a large variety of seed mixtures and temporal variation in seeding time, ensured continuity of the flower-strips by using perennial seed mixtures and distributed the measures over c. 10% of the landscape. This led to an increase in pollinator abundance, suggesting that these measures may be instrumental for the successful support of pollinators. These measures may ensure the availability of a network of diverse habitats and foraging resources for pollinators throughout the year, as well as nesting sites for many species. The measures are applied in-field and are suitable for application in areas under intensive agriculture. We propose that flower strip networks should be implemented much more in the upcoming CAP (common agricultural policy) reform in the European Union and promoted more by advisory services for farmers.
Project description:Flower strips are commonly recommended to boost biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services (e.g., pollination and pest control) on farmland. However, significant knowledge gaps remain regards the extent to which they deliver on these aims. Here, we tested the efficacy of flower strips that targeted different subsets of beneficial arthropods (pollinators and natural enemies) and their ecosystem services in cider apple orchards. Treatments included mixes that specifically targeted: (1) pollinators ('concealed-nectar plants'); (2) natural enemies ('open-nectar plants'); or (3) both groups concurrently (i.e., 'multi-functional' mix). Flower strips were established in alleyways of four orchards and compared to control alleyways (no flowers). Pollinator (e.g., bees) and natural enemy (e.g., parasitoid wasps, predatory flies and beetles) visitation to flower strips, alongside measures of pest control (aphid colony densities, sentinel prey predation), and fruit production, were monitored in orchards over two consecutive growing seasons. Targeted flower strips attracted either pollinators or natural enemies, whereas mixed flower strips attracted both groups in similar abundance to targeted mixes. Natural enemy densities on apple trees were higher in plots containing open-nectar plants compared to other treatments, but effects were stronger for non-aphidophagous taxa. Predation of sentinel prey was enhanced in all flowering plots compared to controls but pest aphid densities and fruit yield were unaffected by flower strips. We conclude that 'multi-functional' flower strips that contain flowering plant species with opposing floral traits can provide nectar and pollen for both pollinators and natural enemies, but further work is required to understand their potential for improving pest control services and yield in cider apple orchards.
Project description:The expansion of pollinator-dependent crops, especially in the developing world, together with reports of worldwide pollinator declines, raises concern of possible yield gaps. Farmers directly reliant on pollination services for food supply often live in regions where our knowledge of pollination services is poor. In a manipulative experiment replicated at 23 sites across an Ethiopian agricultural landscape, we found poor pollination services and severe pollen limitation in a common oil crop. With supplementary pollination, the yield increased on average by 91%. Despite the heterogeneous agricultural matrix, we found a low bee abundance, which may explain poor pollination services. The variation in pollen limitation was unrelated to surrounding forest cover, local bee richness and bee abundance. While practices that commonly increase pollinators (restricted pesticide use, flower strips) are an integral part of the landscape, these elements are apparently insufficient. Management to increase pollination services is therefore in need of urgent investigation.
Project description:Modeling pollination ecosystem services requires a spatially explicit, process-based approach because they depend on both the behavioral responses of pollinators to the amount and spatial arrangement of habitat and on the within- and between-season dynamics of pollinator populations in response to land use. We describe a novel pollinator model predicting flower visitation rates by wild central-place foragers (e.g., nesting bees) in spatially explicit landscapes. The model goes beyond existing approaches by: (1) integrating preferential use of more rewarding floral and nesting resources; (2) considering population growth over time; (3) allowing different dispersal distances for workers and reproductives; (4) providing visitation rates for use in crop pollination models. We use the model to estimate the effect of establishing grassy field margins offering nesting resources and a low quantity of flower resources, and/or late-flowering flower strips offering no nesting resources but abundant flowers, on bumble bee populations and visitation rates to flowers in landscapes that differ in amounts of linear seminatural habitats and early mass-flowering crops. Flower strips were three times more effective in increasing pollinator populations and visitation rates than field margins, and this effect increased over time. Late-blooming flower strips increased early-season visitation rates, but decreased visitation rates in other late-season flowers. Increases in population size over time in response to flower strips and amounts of linear seminatural habitats reduced this apparent competition for pollinators. Our spatially explicit, process-based model generates emergent patterns reflecting empirical observations, such that adding flower resources may have contrasting short- and long-term effects due to apparent competition for pollinators and pollinator population size increase. It allows exploring these effects and comparing effect sizes in ways not possible with other existing models. Future applications include species comparisons, analysis of the sensitivity of predictions to life-history traits, as well as large-scale management intervention and policy assessment.
Project description:The introduction of sown wildflower strips favours the establishment of pollinator communities, with special reference to social Apoidea. Here, we evaluated the late summer flowering Cephalaria transsylvanica as suitable species for strips providing food for pollinators in paucity periods. C. transsylvanica showed no particular requirements in terms of seed germination and growth during summer. This plant had an excellent potential of self-seeding and competitiveness towards weed competitors. C. transsylvanica prevented from entomophilous pollination showed inbreeding depression, with a decrease in seed-set and accumulation of seed energy reserves. However, C. transsylvanica did not appear to be vulnerable in terms of pollination biology since it had a wide range of pollinators including bees, hoverflies and Lepidoptera. C. transsylvanica was visited mainly by honeybees and bumblebees and these latter pollinators increased their visits on C. transsylvanica flowers during early autumn. This plant may be useful as an abundant source of pollen during food paucity periods, such as autumn. We proposed C. transsylvanica for incorporation into flower strips to be planted in non-cropped farmlands in intensively managed agricultural areas as well as in proximity of beehives. The latter option may facilitate the honeybees collecting pollen and nectar for the colony, thereby ensuring robustness to overcome the winter season.