Pollination deficits and contributions of pollinators in apple production: a global meta-analysis.
Apple is one of the most widely cultivated fruit crops world-wide, and apple yield benefits from pollination by insects. The global decline in wild pollinator populations raises concern about the adequacy of pollination services in apple production. Here, we present a global meta-analysis of pollination in apple. We assembled from the literature a dataset comprising results of 48 studies across five continents on fruit set and seed set in apple with insect pollination, artificial pollination and pollinator exclusion, and analysed the effects of explanatory factors such as variety and continent. Fruit set was on average 41% lower with open pollination than with artificial pollination, while seed set was 20% lower. These pollination deficits varied across continents and cultivars. Pollination deficits for fruit set were greatest in Asia (63%) followed by Europe (30%), whereas pollination deficits for seed set were greatest in Asia (47%) and South America (40%). Important differences in pollination deficit were also identified between cultivars but these differences were confounded with continent effects. Fruit set and seed set were 71% and 62% higher, respectively, when insects had open access to flowers than when they were artificially excluded, while results varied among cultivars. Synthesis and applications. Globally, there are substantial contributions of pollinators to fruit set and seed set in apple, as well as considerable limitations in apple pollination services, particularly in Asia, Europe and South America. Several management strategies could be applied to reduce the pollination deficits in apple production: (1) conserving wild bees and enhancing their abundance and diversity, (2) using managed bees for pollination, (3) using varieties with low pollinator dependency and/or (4) artificial pollination. These strategies should be tailored to the regional situation, considering the potential of landscapes for restoring wild pollinators, the acceptability of cultivated varieties for available pollinators, the acceptance in the market of self-compatible varieties and the costs of management, such as artificial pollination, pollinator conservation, beekeeping and planting self-compatible varieties. Conservation of wild pollinators is preferred in regions with sufficient potential for wild pollinators as it contributes to biodiversity conservation and improves pollination in both crops and wild plants.