What makes a good pollinator? Abundant and specialised insects with long flight periods transport the most strawberry pollen.

Published online
30 Sep 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Villa-Galaviz, E. & Cirtwill, A. R. & Gibson, R. & Timberlake, T. & Roslin, T. & Memmott, J.
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enThis link goes to a English sectionesThis link goes to a Spanish section Despite the importance of insect pollination to produce marketable fruits, insect pollination management is limited by insufficient knowledge about key crop pollinator species. This lack of knowledge is due in part to (1) the extensive labour involved in collecting direct observations of pollen transport, (2) the variability of insect assemblages over space and time and (3) the possibility that pollinators may need access to wild plants as well as crop floral resources. We address these problems using strawberry in the United Kingdom as a case study. First, we compare two proxies for estimating pollinator importance: flower visits and pollen transport. Pollen-transport data might provide a closer approximation of pollination service, but visitation data are less time-consuming to collect. Second, we identify insect parameters that are associated with high importance as pollinators, estimated using each of the proxies above. Third, we estimated insects' use of wild plants as well as the strawberry crop. Overall, pollinator importances estimated based on easier-to-collect visitation data were strongly correlated with importances estimated based on pollen loads. Both frameworks suggest that bees (Apis and Bombus) and hoverflies (Eristalis) are likely to be key pollinators of strawberries, although visitation data underestimate the importance of bees. Moving beyond species identities, abundant, relatively specialised insects with long active periods are likely to provide more pollination services. Most insects visiting strawberry plants also carried pollen from wild plants, suggesting that pollinators need diverse floral resources. Identifying essential pollinators or pollinator parameters based on visitation data will reach the same general conclusions as those using pollen transport data, at least in monoculture crop systems. Managers may be able to enhance pollination service by preserving habitats surrounding crop fields to complement pollinators' diets and provide habitats for diverse life stages of wild pollinators.

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