Background. Up to 75% of crop species benefit at least to some degree from animal pollination for fruit or seed set and yield. However, basic information on the level of pollinator dependence and pollinator contribution to yield is lacking for many crops. Even less is known about how insect pollination affects crop quality. Given that habitat loss and agricultural intensification are known to decrease pollinator richness and abundance, there is a need to assess the consequences for different components of crop production. Methods. We used pollination exclusion on flowers or inflorescences on a whole plant basis to assess the contribution of insect pollination to crop yield and quality in four flowering crops (spring oilseed rape, field bean, strawberry, and buckwheat) located in four regions of Europe. For each crop, we recorded abundance and species richness of flower visiting insects in ten fields located along a gradient from simple to heterogeneous landscapes. Results. Insect pollination enhanced average crop yield between 18 and 71% depending on the crop. Yield quality was also enhanced in most crops. For instance, oilseed rape had higher oil and lower chlorophyll contents when adequately pollinated, the proportion of empty seeds decreased in buckwheat, and strawberries' commercial grade improved; however, we did not find higher nitrogen content in open pollinated field beans. Complex landscapes had a higher overall species richness of wild pollinators across crops, but visitation rates were only higher in complex landscapes for some crops. On the contrary, the overall yield was consistently enhanced by higher visitation rates, but not by higher pollinator richness. Discussion. For the four crops in this study, there is clear benefit delivered by pollinators on yield quantity and/or quality, but it is not maximized under current agricultural intensification. Honeybees, the most abundant pollinator, might partially compensate the loss of wild pollinators in some areas, but our results suggest the need of landscape-scale actions to enhance wild pollinator populations.
The diversity and abundance of wild insect pollinators have declined in many agricultural landscapes. Whether such declines reduce crop yields, or are mitigated by managed pollinators such as honey bees, is unclear. We found universally positive associations of fruit set with flower visitation by wild insects in 41 crop systems worldwide. In contrast, fruit set increased significantly with flower visitation by honey bees in only 14% of the systems surveyed. Overall, wild insects pollinated crops more effectively; an increase in wild insect visitation enhanced fruit set by twice as much as an equivalent increase in honey bee visitation. Visitation by wild insects and honey bees promoted fruit set independently, so pollination by managed honey bees supplemented, rather than substituted for, pollination by wild insects. Our results suggest that new practices for integrated management of both honey bees and diverse wild insect assemblages will enhance global crop yields.
Bees provide essential pollination services that are potentially affected both by local farm management and the surrounding landscape. To better understand these different factors, we modelled the relative effects of landscape composition (nesting and floral resources within foraging distances), landscape configuration (patch shape, interpatch connectivity and habitat aggregation) and farm management (organic vs. conventional and local-scale field diversity), and their interactions, on wild bee abundance and richness for 39 crop systems globally. Bee abundance and richness were higher in diversified and organic fields and in landscapes comprising more high-quality habitats; bee richness on conventional fields with low diversity benefited most from high-quality surrounding land cover. Landscape configuration effects were weak. Bee responses varied slightly by biome. Our synthesis reveals that pollinator persistence will depend on both the maintenance of high-quality habitats around farms and on local management practices that may offset impacts of intensive monoculture agriculture.
Sustainable agricultural landscapes by definition provide high magnitude and stability of ecosystem services, biodiversity and crop productivity. However, few studies have considered landscape effects on the stability of ecosystem services. We tested whether isolation from florally diverse natural and semi-natural areas reduces the spatial and temporal stability of flower-visitor richness and pollination services in crop fields. We synthesised data from 29 studies with contrasting biomes, crop species and pollinator communities. Stability of flower-visitor richness, visitation rate (all insects except honey bees) and fruit set all decreased with distance from natural areas. At 1 km from adjacent natural areas, spatial stability decreased by 25, 16 and 9% for richness, visitation and fruit set, respectively, while temporal stability decreased by 39% for richness and 13% for visitation. Mean richness, visitation and fruit set also decreased with isolation, by 34, 27 and 16% at 1 km respectively. In contrast, honey bee visitation did not change with isolation and represented > 25% of crop visits in 21 studies. Therefore, wild pollinators are relevant for crop productivity and stability even when honey bees are abundant. Policies to preserve and restore natural areas in agricultural landscapes should enhance levels and reliability of pollination services.
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