1. Interest in pollen-borne gene dispersal has grown with the cultivation of genetically modified plants. To date, both experimental data and models of oilseed rape (OSR) Brassica napus pollen movement at the landscape scale do not clearly differentiate between wind- and insect-mediated dispersal. Estimations of insect-mediated gene dispersal would be valuable for managing potential escapes of transgenes.
2. To quantify the intensity and spatial scale of pollen dispersal by insect pollinators in an agricultural landscape, bait points made of flowering male-sterile OSR that attract OSR pollinators were located at six distances (10–1100 m) from the closest OSR fields and feral populations. Flower-visiting insects were caught by net on these male-sterile flowers and were rubbed onto the stigmas of male-sterile OSR plants grown in a pollen-proof greenhouse to do a manual pollination of their flowers. In this way we were able to assess the insects’ OSR pollen load and seed production at each of the six distances.
3. A large diversity of insects carried OSR pollen and contributed to seed production, but not pollen beetles Meligethes aeneus. Logistic regression analyses of the seed-set success from the manual pollination demonstrated that seed set significantly increased with the proximity of OSR fields, the size of the pollinating insect, and the main daily temperature. Seed set was not affected by the pollinating insect’s order or genus. Seed set, both observed and predicted by the model, was above zero for flowers pollinated with large bees caught at >1100 m from the nearest OSR field.
4. Synthesis and applications. Our study provides clear evidence that a large variety of insect species can transfer viable pollen between OSR plants over considerable distances. However, only 39·4% of the insects caught on male-sterile flowers carried OSR pollen. Our results provide valuable data to improve models of pollen dispersal for entomophilous crops at the landscape scale. These models are essential to help land-managers reduce pollen-borne gene dispersal from genetically modified plants to wild and cultivated relatives.