Concept: Pollination management
Declines in insect pollinators across Europe have raised concerns about the supply of pollination services to agriculture. Simultaneously, EU agricultural and biofuel policies have encouraged substantial growth in the cultivated area of insect pollinated crops across the continent. Using data from 41 European countries, this study demonstrates that the recommended number of honeybees required to provide crop pollination across Europe has risen 4.9 times as fast as honeybee stocks between 2005 and 2010. Consequently, honeybee stocks were insufficient to supply >90% of demands in 22 countries studied. These findings raise concerns about the capacity of many countries to cope with major losses of wild pollinators and highlight numerous critical gaps in current understanding of pollination service supplies and demands, pointing to a pressing need for further research into this issue.
Wild and managed pollinators provide a wide range of benefits to society in terms of contributions to food security, farmer and beekeeper livelihoods, social and cultural values, as well as the maintenance of wider biodiversity and ecosystem stability. Pollinators face numerous threats, including changes in land-use and management intensity, climate change, pesticides and genetically modified crops, pollinator management and pathogens, and invasive alien species. There are well-documented declines in some wild and managed pollinators in several regions of the world. However, many effective policy and management responses can be implemented to safeguard pollinators and sustain pollination services.
Pollinators serve critical roles for the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems, and have an estimated annual value of over $150 billion for global agriculture. Mounting evidence from agricultural systems reveals that pollinators are declining in many regions of the world, and with a lack of information on whether pollinator communities in natural systems are following similar trends, identifying factors which support pollinator visitation and services are important for ameliorating the effects of the current global pollinator crisis. We investigated how fire affects resource structure and how that variation influences floral pollinator communities by comparing burn versus control treatments in a southeastern USA old-field system. We hypothesized and found a positive relationship between fire and plant density of a native forb, Verbesina alternifolia, as well as a significant difference in floral visitation of V. alternifolia between burn and control treatments. V. alternifolia density was 44% greater and floral visitation was 54% greater in burned treatments relative to control sites. When the density of V. alternifolia was experimentally reduced in the burn sites to equivalent densities observed in control sites, floral visitation in burned sites declined to rates found in control sites. Our results indicate that plant density is a proximal mechanism by which an imposed fire regime can indirectly impact floral visitation, suggesting its usefulness as a tool for management of pollination services. Although concerns surround the negative impacts of management, indirect positive effects may provide an important direction to explore for managing future ecological and conservation issues. Studies examining the interaction among resource concentration, plant apparency, and how fire affects the evolutionary consequences of altered patterns of floral visitation are overdue.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published about 4 years ago
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.
Agricultural expansion and intensification negatively affect pollinator populations and has led to reductions in pollination services across multiple cropping systems. As a result, growers and researchers have utilized the restoration of local and landscape habitat diversity to support pollinators, and wild bees in particular. Although a majority of studies to date have focussed on effects in pollinator-dependent crops such as almond, tomato, sunflower, and watermelon, supporting wild bees in self-pollinated crops, such as grapes, can contribute to broader conservation goals as well as provide other indirect benefits to growers. This study evaluates the influence of summer flowering cover crops and landscape diversity on the abundance and diversity of vineyard bee populations. We showed that diversity and abundance of wild bees were increased on the flowering cover crop, but were unaffected by changes in landscape diversity. These findings indicate that summer flowering cover crops can be used to support wild bees and this could be a useful strategy for grape growers interested in pollinator conservation as part of a broader farmscape sustainability agenda.
Worldwide, human appropriation of ecosystems is disrupting plant-pollinator communities and pollination function through habitat conversion and landscape homogenisation. Conversion to agriculture is destroying and degrading semi-natural ecosystems while conventional land-use intensification (e.g. industrial management of large-scale monocultures with high chemical inputs) homogenises landscape structure and quality. Together, these anthropogenic processes reduce the connectivity of populations and erode floral and nesting resources to undermine pollinator abundance and diversity, and ultimately pollination services. Ecological intensification of agriculture represents a strategic alternative to ameliorate these drivers of pollinator decline while supporting sustainable food production, by promoting biodiversity beneficial to agricultural production through management practices such as intercropping, crop rotations, farm-level diversification and reduced agrochemical use. We critically evaluate its potential to address and reverse the land use and management trends currently degrading pollinator communities and potentially causing widespread pollination deficits. We find that many of the practices that constitute ecological intensification can contribute to mitigating the drivers of pollinator decline. Our findings support ecological intensification as a solution to pollinator declines, and we discuss ways to promote it in agricultural policy and practice.
Insect-pollinated crops provide important nutrients for human health. Pollination, water and nutrients available to crops can influence yield, but it is not known if the nutritional value of the crop is also influenced. Almonds are an important source of critical nutrients for human health such as unsaturated fat and vitamin E. We manipulated the pollination of almond trees and the resources available to the trees, to investigate the impact on the nutritional composition of the crop. The pollination treatments were: (a) exclusion of pollinators to initiate self-pollination and (b) hand cross-pollination; the plant resource treatments were: © reduced water and (d) no fertilizer. In an orchard in northern California, trees were exposed to a single treatment or a combination of two (one pollination and one resource). Both the fat and vitamin E composition of the nuts were highly influenced by pollination. Lower proportions of oleic to linoleic acid, which are less desirable from both a health and commercial perspective, were produced by the self-pollinated trees. However, higher levels of vitamin E were found in the self-pollinated nuts. In some cases, combined changes in pollination and plant resources sharpened the pollination effects, even when plant resources were not influencing the nutrients as an individual treatment. This study highlights the importance of insects as providers of cross-pollination for fruit quality that can affect human health, and, for the first time, shows that other environmental factors can sharpen the effect of pollination. This contributes to an emerging field of research investigating the complexity of interactions of ecosystem services affecting the nutritional value and commercial quality of crops.
- Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society
- Published almost 5 years ago
Tropical biodiversity and associated ecosystem functions have become heavily eroded through habitat loss. Animal-mediated pollination is required in more than 94% of higher tropical plant species and 75% of the world’s leading food crops, but it remains unclear if corridors avert deforestation-driven pollination breakdown in fragmented tropical landscapes. Here, we used manipulative resource experiments and field observations to show that corridors functionally connect neotropical forest fragments for forest-associated hummingbirds and increase pollen transfer. Further, corridors boosted forest-associated pollinator availability in fragments by 14.3 times compared with unconnected equivalents, increasing overall pollination success. Plants in patches without corridors showed pollination rates equal to bagged control flowers, indicating pollination failure in isolated fragments. This indicates, for the first time, that corridors benefit tropical forest ecosystems beyond boosting local species richness, by functionally connecting mutualistic network partners. We conclude that small-scale adjustments to landscape configuration safeguard native pollinators and associated pollination services in tropical forest landscapes.
In Europe, agri-environmental schemes (AES) have been introduced in response to concerns about farmland biodiversity declines. Yet, as AES have delivered variable results, a better understanding of what determines their success or failure is urgently needed. Focusing on pollinating insects, we quantitatively reviewed how environmental factors affect the effectiveness of AES. Our results suggest that the ecological contrast in floral resources created by schemes drives the response of pollinators to AES but that this response is moderated by landscape context and farmland type, with more positive responses in croplands (vs. grasslands) located in simple (vs. cleared or complex) landscapes. These findings inform us how to promote pollinators and associated pollination services in species-poor landscapes. They do not, however, present viable strategies to mitigate loss of threatened or endangered species. This indicates that the objectives and design of AES should distinguish more clearly between biodiversity conservation and delivery of ecosystem services.
Methods for sampling ecological assemblages strive to be efficient, repeatable, and representative. Unknowingly, common methods may be limited in terms of revealing species function and so of less value for comparative studies. The global decline in pollination services has stimulated surveys of flower-visiting invertebrates, using pan traps and net sampling. We explore the relative merits of these two methods in terms of species discovery, quantifying abundance, function, and composition, and responses of species to changing floral resources. Using a spatially-nested design we sampled across a 5000 km(2) area of arid grasslands, including 432 hours of net sampling and 1296 pan trap-days, between June 2010 and July 2011. Net sampling yielded 22% more species and 30% higher abundance than pan traps, and better reflected the spatio-temporal variation of floral resources. Species composition differed significantly between methods; from 436 total species, 25% were sampled by both methods, 50% only by nets, and the remaining 25% only by pans. Apart from being less comprehensive, if pan traps do not sample flower-visitors, the link to pollination is questionable. By contrast, net sampling functionally linked species to pollination through behavioural observations of flower-visitation interaction frequency. Netted specimens are also necessary for evidence of pollen transport. Benefits of net-based sampling outweighed minor differences in overall sampling effort. As pan traps and net sampling methods are not equivalent for sampling invertebrate-flower interactions, we recommend net sampling of invertebrate pollinator assemblages, especially if datasets are intended to document declines in pollination and guide measures to retain this important ecosystem service.