, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 1181-1189
Date: 15 Oct 2013

Pollinators and pollination of oilseed rape crops (Brassica napus L.) in Ireland: ecological and economic incentives for pollinator conservation

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Pollinators are beneficial for many wild and crop plants. As a mass-flowering crop, oilseed rape has received much focus in terms of its pollination requirements but despite a threefold increase in area of cultivation of this crop in Ireland over the past 5 years, little is known about its pollination here. We surveyed the flower visiting insects found in commercial winter oilseed rape fields and evaluated the importance of different pollinator groups, investigated the contribution of insect pollination to oilseed rape seed production, and estimated the economic value of insect pollination to the crop at a national level. Our data showed that winter oilseed rape is visited by a wide variety of insect species, including the honeybee, bumblebees, solitary bees, and hoverflies. The honeybee, Eristalis hoverflies and bumblebees (especially Bombus sensu stricto and B. lapidarius) were the best pollinators of winter oilseed rape based on the number of pollen grains they carry, visitation rates per flower and their relative abundance per field. Exclusion of pollinators resulted in a 27 % decrease in the number of seeds produced, and a 30 % decrease in seed weight per pod in winter crops, with comparable values from a spring oilseed rape field also. The economic value of insect pollination to winter oilseed rape was estimated as €2.6 million per annum, while the contribution to spring oilseed rape was €1.3 million, resulting in an overall value of €3.9 million per annum. We can suggest the appropriate conservation and management of both honeybees and wild pollinators in agricultural areas to ensure continued provision of pollination services to oilseed rape, as a decrease in insect numbers has the potential to negatively influence crop yields.