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Pollinator visitation to mass-flowering courgette and co-flowering wild flowers: Implications for pollination and bee conservation on farms

Knapp, Jessica L., Shaw, Rosalind F., Osborne, Juliet L.
Basic and applied ecology 2018
Apis mellifera, Bombus, Cucurbita pepo, crops, edge effects, farms, flowers, growers, habitats, honey bees, plant communities, pollination, pollinators, solitary bees, species richness, weeds, wild flowers, zucchini, United Kingdom
Managing the complex relationship between pollinators and their habitat requirements is of particular concern to growers of pollinator-dependent crop species, such as courgette (Cucurbita pepo). Naturally occurring wild flowers (i.e. agricultural weeds) offer a free, sustainable, and often underappreciated resource for pollinators, however, they may compete with crop flowers for visits. To understand the extent to which floral resources mediate pollinator visitation to courgette flowers and courgette fields, plant community and pollinator visitation data were collected at two spatial scales: field scale (in margins, and in the cropped area) and farm scale (500m and 2000m radii) for nine courgette fields across the UK. Apis mellifera (honeybees) and Bombus spp. (bumblebees) were the only pollinators observed to visit courgette flowers. Bumblebees were significantly more abundant on courgette flowers in fields with a greater species richness of wild flowers in the crop, whilst honeybees were significantly more abundant on courgette flowers in areas with less semi-natural habitat. For both honeybees and bumblebees, their abundance in field margins did not significantly reduce their abundance on courgette flowers, suggesting that wild flowers were not competing with courgette flowers for pollinator visitation. Although solitary bees were not observed to visit courgette flowers, their abundance and species richness in courgette fields were significantly greater with more semi-natural habitat and a greater species richness of wild flowers. Therefore, allowing uncultivated areas around the crop to be colonised by species-rich wild flowers is an effective way of boosting the abundance of bumblebees, which are important visitors to courgette flowers, as well as the abundance and species richness of solitary bees, thereby benefitting pollinator conservation.