Experimental evidence of the benefit of wild flower strips to crop pollination

Feltham, H, Park, K, Minderman, J and Goulson, D (2015) Experimental evidence of the benefit of wild flower strips to crop pollination. Ecology and Evolution. ISSN 2045-7758

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Abstract

Wild bees provide a free and potentially diverse ecosystem service to farmers growing pollinator dependent crops. Whilst many crops benefit from insect pollination, soft fruit crops, including strawberries are commonly 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 sown wild flowers however, the efficacy and economic benefits of sowing flower strips for crops has been little investigated. Here we test whether wildflower strips increase the number of visits to adjacent commercial strawberry crops by wild pollinators. This was quantified 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 3,102 pollinators. On average, the frequency of pollinator visits was 25% higher for crops with adjacent flower strips compared to those without, with bumblebees (Bombus spp.) accounting for 62% of all pollinators observed. This effect was independent of other (potentially important) confounding effects, such as the number of flowers on the crop, date and temperature. Whilst commercial bees may still be required early in the season, 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. The cost of planting these strips was substantially lower than the annual cost of purchasing commercial bumblebees, with the added advantage that this management option has the potential to increase and sustain pollinator populations over time.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Online first 1/8/2015
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Biology and Environmental Science
Subjects: Q Science > QK Botany
Q Science > QK Botany > QK0900 Plant ecology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Depositing User: David Goulson
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2015 10:54
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2017 00:38
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/54227

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Project NameSussex Project NumberFunderFunder Ref
Development and verification of a standardised protocol for the detection of parasite infection levels in commercially-produced bumblebee coloniesG1187NERC-NATURAL ENVIRONMENT RESEARCH COUNCILNE/L002760/1