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Specialty oilseed crops provide an abundant source of pollen for pollinators and beneficial insects

M. D. Thom, C. A. Eberle, F. Forcella, R. Gesch, S. Weyers
Journal of applied entomology 2018 v.142 no.1-2 pp. 211-222
Borago officinalis, Brassica napus, Calendula officinalis, Camelina sativa, Cuphea lanceolata, Cuphea viscosissima, Echium plantagineum, Glycine max, Linum usitatissimum, Thlaspi arvense, Triticum, Zea mays, agricultural land, annuals, bees, beneficial insects, canola, corn, energy, flax, flowering, flowers, insect pollination, intensive farming, landscapes, nectar, oilseed crops, plant proteins, pollen, pollinators, soybeans, vegetation, wheat, Minnesota
The continuing pollinator crisis is due, in part, to the lack of year‐round floral resources. In intensive farming regions, such as the Upper Midwest (UMW) of the USA, natural and pastoral vegetation largely has been replaced by annual crops such as maize (Zea mays L.), soyabean (Glycine max L.) and wheat (Triticum spp.). Neither the energy (nectar) nor protein (pollen) needs of pollinating and other beneficial insects are being met sufficiently by the new, high‐intensity, agricultural landscape. Several potentially useful oilseed crops can be grown in the UMW, and many of these oilseeds are highly attractive to beneficial insects. Prior research showed that some of these oilseeds produced abundant nectar, but their corresponding values for pollen production are unknown. Accordingly, the aim of our research was to document pollen (and protein) production per unit area of twelve oilseed crops grown in Minnesota and associate these values with levels of beneficial insect visitation during anthesis. Our results show that oilseed crops such as camelina (Camelina sativa L.), flax (Linum usitatissimum L.) and pennycress (Thlaspi arvense L.) produce relatively little pollen (≤40 kg/ha); borage (Borago officinalis L.), calendula (Calendula officinalis L.), canola (Brassica napus L.), crambe (Crambe abyssianica Hochst) and cuphea (Cuphea viscosissima Jacq. × Cuphea lanceolata W. T. Aiton) produce bountiful pollen resources (50–150 kg/ha); and oilseed echium (Echium plantagineum L.) generates massive amounts of pollen (>400 kg/ha), about 50% of which is protein. Our study is unique in presenting a season‐long perspective of pollen production in alternative oilseed crops, a resource valuable to pollen‐feeding insects such as managed and wild bees. Diversification of UMW landscapes that includes alternative oilseed crops such as oilseed echium and cuphea can potentially provide a ready source of pollen and protein to help combat pollinator decline.