Article alert: Oilseed rape crops distort plant–pollinator interactions

Journal of Applied Ecology, 47: 209–214

Diekötter, T., Kadoya, T., Peter, F., Wolters, V. and Jauker, F.

1. New incentives at the national and international level frequently lead to substantial structural changes in agricultural landscapes. Subsidizing energy crops, for example, recently fostered a strong increase in the area cultivated with oilseed rape Brassica napus across the EU. These changes in landscape structure affect biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.

2. Mass-flowering oilseed rape has been shown to positively affect colony growth and densities of bumblebees, which may enhance pollination services in agroecosystems. Not considered, however, have been species-specific traits of pollinators resulting in disproportionate benefits from these recurrent resource pulses. A subsequent community shift towards the subsidized species potentially distorts plant–pollinator interactions in the surrounding landscape.

3. We analysed the effects of mass-flowering crops on the abundance of legitimate long-tongued bumblebee pollinators, nectar robbing by illegitimate short-tongued bumblebees and seed set in the long-tubed flowers of red clover Trifolium pratense in 12 landscape sectors with differing amounts of oilseed rape.

4. Densities of long-tongued bumblebees visiting long-tubed plants decreased with increasing amounts of oilseed rape. The simultaneous increase of nectar robbing suggests that resource depletion is a likely explanation for this decline which may lead to a distortion in plant–pollinator interactions. The decline in long-tongued bumblebees, however, did not result in an immediate effect on seed set. In contrast, seed set increased with increasing amounts of semi-natural habitats, indicating the positive effects of these habitats on the legitimate long-tongued pollinators.

5.Synthesis and applications. Accounting for species-specific traits is essential in evaluating the ecological impacts of land-use change. The disproportional trait-specific benefits of increasing oilseed rape to short-tongued bumblebees may abet an increasingly pollinator-dependent agriculture but simultaneously threaten the more specialized and rare long-tongued species and their functions. Semi-natural habitats were found to positively affect seed set in long-tubed plants indicating that they can counteract the potentially distorting effects of transient mass-flowering crops on plant–pollinator interactions in agroecosystems. Future agri-environmental schemes should aim to provide diverse and continuous resources matching trait-specific requirements of various pollinators in order to avoid resource competition. Thereby they harmonize the economic interest in abundant pollinators and the conservation interest in protecting rare species.

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