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Varietal and seasonal differences in the effects of commercial bumblebees on fruit quality in strawberry crops.


ABSTRACT: 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.

SUBMITTER: Martin CD 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC6686987 | BioStudies | 2019-01-01

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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