Long-term yield trends of insect-pollinated crops vary regionally and are linked to neonicotinoid use, landscape complexity, and availability of pollinators

Abstract

Time series data on crop yields for two main wind-pollinated crops (barley and wheat) and for three crops benefitting from insect pollination (turnip rapeseed, caraway, and black currant), were compiled from official agricultural statistics. In Finland, these statistics are available at aggregate national level, and at the level of each of the 15 provinces of the country. Yields of wind-pollinated crops have steadily increased in Finland, while yields of insect-pollinated crops have been highly variable. The largest crop benefitting from insect pollination is turnip rapeseed, which shows first a clear tendency to increased yields from 1980 to 1993, after which there has been a continuous decline in yields at the national average level. Regionally, the trends in turnip rapeseed yield show large variation, so that in six provinces of Finland, the trend has been significantly decreasing; in five provinces, there has been no significant trend; and in two provinces, there has been a significant linear increase in yields. Yield trends in the two other insect-pollinated crops, caraway and black currants, show similar trend variations. However, at the national average level, caraway yields show no significant trend, while black currant yields have increased during the past 6 years. The possible impact on the trends of insect-pollinated crops of three explanatory variables was analyzed. Significant linear correlation was found between the yield trends (slope of the trends) in rapeseed, and the extent of using neonicotinoid seed dressing in the provinces; the magnitude of yield decline in turnip rapeseed increased, as the use of neonicotinoid seed dressing increased. Similar significant linear correlation was found for the magnitude of yield decline in turnip rapeseed and the complexity of the agricultural landscape in each province; yield trend changed from negative to positive as the proportion of agricultural land of the total terrestrial land area declined from 28% to below 10%. The availability of honey bee colonies with respect to the growing area of crops benefitting from insect pollination also had a linear, significant impact on turnip rapeseed yield trends: yields tended to decline in provinces, where the supply of managed pollinators with respect to demand was low, but tended to increase in provinces, where the number of honey bee colonies were over 30% of the estimated demand. As neither the landscape complexity (proportion of arable land of total terrestrial land area), nor the number of honey bee colonies for pollination have changed significantly over the past 10–20 years, these factors cannot explain the observed differences in the yield trends of the examined insect-pollinated crops. It appears that only the uptake of neonicotinoid insecticide seed dressing about 15 years ago can explain the crop yield declines in several provinces, and at the national level for turnip rapeseed, most likely via disruption of pollination services by wild pollinators.

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Acknowledgements

Support for our study from the following projects is acknowledged: EU-ERA-NET program, C-IPM project “IPM4Meligethes”; EU-COST-Action FA1307 “Super-B”; and University of the Arctic Thematic Network “Sustainable Production and Foraging of Natural Products in the North.” Comments from several colleagues and two anonymous reviewers on a previous version of the manuscript are highly appreciated and helped us to improve and clarify our text.

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Correspondence to Heikki M. T. Hokkanen.

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Hokkanen, H.M.T., Menzler-Hokkanen, I. & Keva, M. Long-term yield trends of insect-pollinated crops vary regionally and are linked to neonicotinoid use, landscape complexity, and availability of pollinators. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 11, 449–461 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11829-017-9527-3

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Keywords

  • Brassica rapa
  • Carum carvi
  • Ribes nigrum
  • Pollination deficit
  • Pollinator decline
  • Finland