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Almond orchards with living ground cover host more wild insect pollinators

Abstract

Wild pollinators are becoming more valuable to global agriculture as the commercial honeybee industry is increasingly affected by disease and other stressors. Perennial tree crops are particularly reliant on insect pollination, and are often pollen limited. Research on how different tree crop production systems influence the richness and abundance of wild pollinators is, however, limited. We investigated, for the first time, the richness and abundance of potential wild pollinators in commercial temperate almond orchards in Australia, and compared them to potential pollinator communities in proximate native vegetation. We quantified ground cover variables at each site and assessed the value of ground cover on the richness and abundance of potential wild pollinators in commercial almond systems focussing on three common taxa: bees, wasps and flies. More insects were caught in orchards with living ground cover than in native vegetation or orchards without ground cover, although overall species richness was highest in native vegetation. Percent ground cover was positively associated with wasp richness and abundance, and native bee richness, but flies showed no association with ground cover. The strongest positive relationship was between native bee abundance and the richness of ground cover plants. Our results suggest that maintaining living ground cover within commercial almond orchards could provide habitat and resources for potential wild pollinators, particularly native bees. These insects have the potential to provide a valuable ecosystem service to pollinator-dependent crops such as almond.

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Acknowledgments

Thank you to Select Harvests and Manna Farms for allowing access to their almond orchards; James Abell and Katrina Lumb for field assistance; and Geoff Gurr for helpful guidance and encouragement during planning of the project. Ken Walker provided taxonomic identification of bee species. Two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments that helped improve the manuscript. MES was supported by a postgraduate scholarship from the Institute for Land Water and Society at Charles Sturt University while undertaking this research project. GWL was supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship FT0990436.

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Saunders, M.E., Luck, G.W. & Mayfield, M.M. Almond orchards with living ground cover host more wild insect pollinators. J Insect Conserv 17, 1011–1025 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-013-9584-6

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Keywords

  • Bees
  • Ecosystem services
  • Flower visitor
  • Mallee
  • Tree nut
  • Weeds