Small but critical: semi-natural habitat fragments promote bee abundance in cotton agroecosystems across both Brazil and the United States

Abstract

Context

Bees are the most important pollinators of crops worldwide. For most bees, patches of semi-natural habitat within or adjacent to crops can provide important nesting and food resources. Despite this, land cover change is rapidly reducing the abundance of semi-natural habitat within agroecological landscapes, with potentially negative consequences for bee communities and the services they provide.

Objectives

Identify how the availability of semi-natural habitat impacts bee communities across biogeographic regions, which may reveal commonalities and key governing principles that transcend a single region or taxa.

Methods

We analyze and compare the drivers of bee community composition in cotton fields within Brazil and the U.S. to reveal how land cover and land cover change impact bee community composition across these two regions.

Results

We show that the most critical factors impacting bee communities in cotton agroecosystems are the same in Brazil and the U.S.: bee abundance increases with cotton bloom density and the abundance of semi-natural habitat. Further, the loss of semi-natural habitat over a 5-year period negatively impacts bee abundance in both agroecosystems.

Conclusions

Given the importance of bee abundance for the provision of pollination service in cotton plants, our findings highlight the significance of small semi-natural habitat fragments in supporting key ecosystem service providers for both tropical and temperate cotton agroecological systems. We underscore the important role that local land managers play in biodiversity conservation, and the potential contribution they can make to pollination provision by supporting agricultural landscapes that conserve fragments of semi-natural habitat.

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Acknowledgements

Special thanks to the growers and landowners that allowed us to sample on their lands; without them none of this work would have been possible. For sampling and research permits in Brazil, we thank Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio). This research was supported by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP—2014/50738-9), The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq—310446/2015-5), and the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel CAPES- Programa Biologia Computacional (CAPES-1572813). In the U.S., the help of Texas Agricultural & Mining extension agents, crop consultants, and The Welder Wildlife Foundation, including Roy Parker, Stephen Biles, Lee Hutchins Jr., Kenneth Hanslik, and Terry Blankenship, was invaluable. Thanks to the Jha lab for helpful feedback and support, as well as help in the field from Nicole Vojnovich, Alan Ritchie Jr., Sarah Cunningham, and Rebecca Ruppel. Funding in Texas was provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Army Research Office, and the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Sarah Cusser.

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Cusser, S., Grando, C., Zucchi, M.I. et al. Small but critical: semi-natural habitat fragments promote bee abundance in cotton agroecosystems across both Brazil and the United States. Landscape Ecol 34, 1825–1836 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-019-00868-x

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Keywords

  • Gossypium hirsutum
  • Agroecology
  • Mato Grosso, Brazil
  • Texas, U.S.