, Volume 169, Issue 4, pp 1025-1032

Insect pollination enhances seed yield, quality, and market value in oilseed rape

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Abstract

The relationships between landscape intensification, the abundance and diversity of pollinating insects, and their contributions to crop yield, quality, and market value are poorly studied, despite observed declines in wild and domesticated pollinators. Abundance and species richness of pollinating insects were estimated in ten fields of spring oilseed rape, Brassica napus var. SW Stratos™, located along a gradient of landscape compositions ranging from simple landscapes dominated by arable land to heterogeneous landscapes with extensive cover of semi-natural habitats. In each field, we assessed the contribution of wind and insect pollination to seed yield, seed quality (individual seed weight and oil and chlorophyll contents), and market value in a block experiment with four replicates and two treatments: (1) all flowers were accessible to insects, self and wind pollination, and (2) flowers enclosed in tulle net bags (mesh: 1 × 1 mm) were accessible only to wind and self pollination. Complex landscapes enhanced the overall abundance of wild insects as well as the abundance and species richness of hoverflies. This did not translate to a higher yield, probably due to consistent pollination by honey bees across all fields. However, the pollination experiment showed that insects increased seed weight per plant by 18% and market value by 20%. Seed quality was enhanced by insect pollination, rendering heavier seeds as well as higher oil and lower chlorophyll contents, clearly showing that insect pollination is required to reach high seed yield and quality in oilseed rape. Our study demonstrates considerable and previously underestimated contributions from pollinating insects to both the yield and the market value of oilseed rape.

Communicated by Jason Tylianakis.