Pollinator body size mediates the scale at which land use drives crop pollination services

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Summary

  1. Ecosystem services to agriculture, such as pollination, rely on natural areas adjacent to farmland to support organisms that provide services. Native insect pollinators depend on natural or semi-natural land surrounding farms for nesting and alternative foraging resources. Despite interest in conserving pollinators through habitat restoration, the scale at which land use affects pollinators and thus crop pollination services is not well understood.
  2. We measured abundance of native, wild bee pollinators and the pollination services they provided to highbush blueberry Vaccinium corymbosum L. crops at 16 sites that varied in the proportion of surrounding agricultural land cover at both the field scale (300-m radius) and the landscape scale (1500-m radius). We designed our study such that agricultural land cover at the field scale was uncorrelated with agricultural cover at the landscape scale across sites. We used model selection to determine which spatial scale better predicted aggregate bee abundance, abundance of large versus small bees and crop pollination services.
  3. We found that, overall, bees responded more strongly to field-scale than to landscape-scale land cover, but the scale at which land cover had the strongest effect varied by bee body size. Large bees showed a negative response to increasing agricultural cover at both scales, but were most strongly affected by the landscape scale. Small bees were negatively affected by agricultural land cover but only at the field scale, while they had a small positive response to agricultural cover at the landscape scale.
  4. Aggregate pollination services from native bees were more strongly influenced by field-scale agricultural cover, due to the combined effects of both large and small bees responding at that scale.
  5. Synthesis and applications. Bee abundance and pollination services were strongly determined by field-scale agricultural cover, suggesting that field-scale set-asides may provide significant benefits to pollination services. Further, we found that pollinators respond differently to land use depending on body size, but all groups of bees benefit from decreasing agricultural cover at the field scale. Therefore, small-scale modifications to habitat can have significant impacts on both pollinator abundance and pollination services to crop plants.

Ancillary