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Large-scale pollination experiment demonstrates the importance of insect pollination in winter oilseed rape

Abstract

Insect pollination, despite its potential to contribute substantially to crop production, is not an integrated part of agronomic planning. A major reason for this are knowledge gaps in the contribution of pollinators to yield, which partly result from difficulties in determining area-based estimates of yield effects from insect pollination under field conditions. We have experimentally manipulated honey bee Apis mellifera densities at 43 oilseed rape Brassica napus fields over 2 years in Scandinavia. Honey bee hives were placed in 22 fields; an additional 21 fields without large apiaries in the surrounding landscape were selected as controls. Depending on the pollination system in the parental generation, the B. napus cultivars in the crop fields are classified as either open-pollinated or first-generation hybrids, with both types being open-pollinated in the generation of plants cultivated in the fields. Three cultivars of each type were grown. We measured the activity of flower-visiting insects during flowering and estimated yields by harvesting with small combine harvesters. The addition of honey bee hives to the fields dramatically increased abundance of flower-visiting honey bees in those fields. Honey bees affected yield, but the effect depended on cultivar type (p = 0.04). Post-hoc analysis revealed that open-pollinated cultivars, but not hybrid cultivars, had 11% higher yields in fields with added honey bees than those grown in the control fields (p = 0.07). To our knowledge, this is the first whole-field study in replicated landscapes to assess the benefit of insect pollination in oilseed rape. Our results demonstrate that honey bees have the potential to increase oilseed rape yields, thereby emphasizing the importance of pollinator management for optimal cultivation of oilseed rape.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the farmers and beekeepers involved in the study. Martin Stjernman and SAPES are thanked for help with statistics and providing landscape data. The study was funded by grants from the Swedish Farmers’ Foundation for Agricultural Research, the Swedish Board of Agriculture, the Swedish Rural Economy and Agricultural Society in Kristianstad, Lund University, Henning and Elsa Anderssons foundation, the Kristianstad foundation to SL and RB, and by the Swedish research council FORMAS to RB and HGS.

Author contribution statement

SL, MR, HGS and RB designed the experiments. SL and LH performed the experiments. SL and HGS analyzed the data with advice from all other authors. SL wrote the manuscript with contributions from the other authors.

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Correspondence to Sandra A. M. Lindström.

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Communicated by Diethart Matthies.

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Lindström, S.A.M., Herbertsson, L., Rundlöf, M. et al. Large-scale pollination experiment demonstrates the importance of insect pollination in winter oilseed rape. Oecologia 180, 759–769 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-015-3517-x

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Keywords

  • Brassica napus
  • Crop pollination
  • Crop yield
  • Cultivar
  • Honey bees