Onion pollination by blowflies and honeybees in large cages



Three experiments to investigate the effect of pollination by blowflies (Calliphora and Lucilia spp.) and honeybees (Apis mellifera) on seed yield and crossing level were made using a mixture of plants from two open-pollinated cultivars of onions (Allium cepa) in breeders' cages.

No consistent differences were found between pollinators. In two experiments, fly pollination gave significantly higher yields than bee pollination but in the third, bee pollination gave slightly more seed. Crossing between cultivars, assessed by progeny testing on one cultivar, varied between 22-7 and 55-9%. Differences in crossing level attributable to the pollinators were not consistent and were not or only just statistically significant, but there were significant and substantial differences between the experiments themselves. Where more umbels were produced by the red-bulbed cultivar than by the yellow, higher crossing levels were found in the yellow cultivar. The highest crossing levels were found in the only experiment where insects were not introduced until peak flowering time, but where seed yield was comparatively low. Crossing levels were lowest where the umbel numbers were approximately equal.

Individual umbels studied showed that while seed set was usually heaviest at and just before the mid-flowering date, this period could correspond with the lowest levels of crossing during the flowering period, particularly if flowering of the two cultivars was not completely synchronous.

In field plots, approximately 75% of crossed seeds sown survived to give harvestable bulbs, but fewer than 50% of selfed seeds did so. In an experiment in which crossing levels from different pollinators were similar but survival levels differed significantly, it was deduced that bees performed more crossing within a cultivar than flies.