Sustainable Pollination Services for UK Crops




What pollinates our crops?

Pollination of plants is carried out by many different wild insect species including bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths as well as some managed species such as the honey bee. The importance of these different pollinator groups depends on the crop species, for example long tongued bumblebees have been shown to be good bean pollinators (Kendall, 1975) whilst solitary bees can be effective pollinators of oilseed rape (Jauker et al., 2012) and historically, honey bees have been used as pollinators for many different crops (Carreck and Williams, 1998).

In recent years the number of honey bees in the UK has been in decline (Potts et al. 2010) and there is evidence that we are becoming increasingly reliant on wild pollinators to provide crop pollination services (Breeze et al., 2011) and until now their contribution may have been underestimated.

In the UK there are over 250 species of solitary bee, 22 species of bumblebee and over 270 species of hoverfly, many of which could be important crop pollinators. It is essential therefore, that we establish which insect pollinators are making a contribution to crop production in the UK. Given the potential importance of different pollinators to different crops it is also imperative that we understand the significance of diverse pollinator communities in producing consistent crop yields. It is risky to rely on pollination by one or a few species, a diverse pollinator community will provide stable and robust pollination services even during times of environmental change. It has already been shown that increased pollinator diversity can improve the yield of some crops (Hoehn et al., 2008).

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