Oilseed rape crops distort plant–pollinator interactions


*Correspondence author. E-mail: tim.diekoetter@uni-giessen.de


1. New incentives at the national and international level frequently lead to substantial structural changes in agricultural landscapes. Subsidizing energy crops, for example, recently fostered a strong increase in the area cultivated with oilseed rape Brassica napus across the EU. These changes in landscape structure affect biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

2. Mass-flowering oilseed rape has been shown to positively affect colony growth and densities of bumblebees, which may enhance pollination services in agroecosystems. Not considered, however, have been species-specific traits of pollinators resulting in disproportionate benefits from these recurrent resource pulses. A subsequent community shift towards the subsidized species potentially distorts plant–pollinator interactions in the surrounding landscape.

3. We analysed the effects of mass-flowering crops on the abundance of legitimate long-tongued bumblebee pollinators, nectar robbing by illegitimate short-tongued bumblebees and seed set in the long-tubed flowers of red clover Trifolium pratense in 12 landscape sectors with differing amounts of oilseed rape.

4. Densities of long-tongued bumblebees visiting long-tubed plants decreased with increasing amounts of oilseed rape. The simultaneous increase of nectar robbing suggests that resource depletion is a likely explanation for this decline which may lead to a distortion in plant–pollinator interactions. The decline in long-tongued bumblebees, however, did not result in an immediate effect on seed set. In contrast, seed set increased with increasing amounts of semi-natural habitats, indicating the positive effects of these habitats on the legitimate long-tongued pollinators.

5.Synthesis and applications. Accounting for species-specific traits is essential in evaluating the ecological impacts of land-use change. The disproportional trait-specific benefits of increasing oilseed rape to short-tongued bumblebees may abet an increasingly pollinator-dependent agriculture but simultaneously threaten the more specialized and rare long-tongued species and their functions. Semi-natural habitats were found to positively affect seed set in long-tubed plants indicating that they can counteract the potentially distorting effects of transient mass-flowering crops on plant–pollinator interactions in agroecosystems. Future agri-environmental schemes should aim to provide diverse and continuous resources matching trait-specific requirements of various pollinators in order to avoid resource competition. Thereby they harmonize the economic interest in abundant pollinators and the conservation interest in protecting rare species.