The potential of wildflower strips to enhance pollination services in sweet cherry orchards grown under polytunnels.

Published online
01 Dec 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Mateos-Fierro, Z. & Garratt, M. P. D. & Fountain, M. T. & Ashbrook, K. & Westbury, D. B.
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Sweet cherry production benefits from insect pollination, but the extent to which wildflower strips can boost pollinator visitation under polytunnels is unknown. Wildflowers were established in alleyways between tree rows under polytunnels in 10 commercial cherry orchards. Their management involved either a single cut in September (Standard Wildflower Strips (SWS)) or being actively maintained to 20 cm with regular cutting (Actively Managed Wildflower Strips (AMWS)), compared with unsown Control Strips (CS). Flower visitors of cherry and wildflowers were recorded by visual observations for 3 years (2017-2019), while cherry production (quantity and quality) was assessed in 2019. In total, 67 visitor species were identified; managed commercial species (Apis mellifera and Bombus terrestris) made up ~74% of all records. During the cherry blossom period (anthesis), AMWS had the highest visitor density to cherry blossoms compared with CS and SWS but no significant difference in harvestable fruit was recorded. After anthesis, greater visitor density, diversity and richness were observed in both wildflower treatments compared with CS, being greatest in SWS, which was consistent with differences in floral communities between treatments. Although visitor density was not correlated with fruit set, pollinating insects were key for fruit yields and quality. Fruit set was ~17% from blossoms exposed to visitors compared with <1% when excluded. Furthermore, hand pollination resulted in ~32% fruit set, indicating greatest pollination deficits in CS (~50%) compared with AMWS (~28%) and SWS (~35%). Synthesis and applications. Sweet cherry is highly dependent on pollinators to underpin commercial yields, and pollination deficits exist under polytunnels. Growers should, therefore, reconsider their pollination strategies and look to combine effective pollinator management with polytunnel use to mitigate deficits; establishing and actively managing wildflowers in alleyways could enhance wild visitors and pollination.

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