Re-evaluating strategies for pollinator-dependent crops: how useful is parthenocarpy?
Whilst most studies reviewing the reliance of global agriculture on insect pollination advocate increasing the 'supply' of pollinators (wild or managed) to improve crop yields, there has been little focus on altering a crop's 'demand' for pollinators. Parthenocarpy (fruit set in the absence of fertilization) is a trait which can increase fruit quantity and quality from pollinator-dependent crops by removing the need for pollination. Here we present a meta-analysis of studies examining the extent and effectiveness of parthenocarpy-promoting techniques (genetic modification, hormone application and selective breeding) currently being used commercially, or experimentally, on pollinator-dependent crops in different test environments (no pollination, hand pollination, open pollination). All techniques significantly increased fruit quantity and quality in 18 pollinator-dependent crop species (not including seed and nut crops as parthenocarpy causes seedlessness). The degree to which plants experienced pollen limitation in the different test environments could not be ascertained, so the absolute effect of parthenocarpy relative to optimal pollination could not be determined. Synthesis and applications. Parthenocarpy has the potential to lower a crop's demand for pollinators, whilst extending current geographic and climatic ranges of production. Thus, growers may wish to use parthenocarpic crop plants, in combination with other environmentally considerate practices, to improve food security and their economic prospects.