Modern agriculture relies on domesticated pollinators such as the honey bee (Apis mellifera L.), and to a lesser extent on native pollinators, for the production of animal-pollinated crops. There is growing concern that pollinator availability may not keep pace with increasing agricultural production. However, whether crop production is in fact pollen-limited at the field scale has rarely been studied. Here, we ask whether commercial highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.) production in New Jersey is limited by a lack of pollination even when growers provide honey bees at recommended densities. We studied two varieties of blueberry over 3 yr to determine whether blueberry crop production is pollen-limited and to measure the relative contributions of honey bees and native bees to blueberry pollination. We found two lines of evidence for pollen limitation. First, berries receiving supplemental hand-pollination were generally heavier than berries receiving ambient pollination. Second, mean berry mass increased significantly and nonasymptotically with honey bee flower visitation rate. While honey bees provided 86% of pollination and thus drove the findings reported above, native bees still contributed 14% of total pollination even in our conventionally managed, high-input agricultural system. Honey bees and native bees were also similarly efficient as pollinators on a per-visit basis. Overall, our study shows that pollination can be a limiting factor in commercial fruit production. Yields might increase with increased honey bee stocking rates and improved dispersal of hives within crop fields, and with habitat restoration to increase pollination provided by native bees.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Insect Science