Flower plantings increase wild bee abundance and the pollination services provided to a pollination-dependent crop

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Summary

  1. Pollination services from wild insects contribute to crop productivity around the world, but are at risk of decline in agricultural landscapes. Using highbush blueberry as a model system, we tested whether wildflower plantings established adjacent to crop fields would increase the abundance of wild pollinators during crop bloom and enhance pollination and yield.
  2. Plantings were seeded in 2009 with a mix of 15 perennial wildflower species that provided season-long bloom and increased plant density and floral area during the subsequent 3 years.
  3. Honeybees visiting blueberry flowers had similar abundance in enhanced and control fields in all 4 years of this study, whereas wild bee and syrphid abundance increased annually in the fields adjacent to wildflower plantings.
  4. Crop pollination parameters including percentage fruit set, berry weight and mature seeds per berry were significantly greater in fields adjacent to wildflower plantings 3 and 4 years after seeding, leading to higher crop yields and with the associated revenue exceeding the cost of wildflower establishment and maintenance.
  5. Synthesis and applications. We suggest that provision of forage habitat for bees adjacent to pollinator-dependent crops can conserve wild pollinators in otherwise resource-poor agricultural landscapes. Over time, these plantings can support higher crop yields and bring a return on the initial investment in wildflower seed and planting establishment, also insuring against loss of managed pollinators. Further understanding of the importance of planting size, location and landscape context will be required to effectively implement this practice to support crop pollination.

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