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Title: Maximising a mutualism : sustainable bumblebee management to improve crop pollination
Author: Feltham, Hannah
ISNI:       0000 0004 5365 1464
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2015
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Over 80% of wild angiosperms are reliant upon animal pollination for fruit and seed set and bees and other insects provide a vital pollination service to around a third of the crops we produce. Habitat loss, climate change and disease spread all threaten pollinator populations, with local declines and range contractions in honeybees and bumblebees leading to concerns that crop production may suffer as a result of pollinator shortages. Whilst agriculture and wildlife are often presented as being at odds with one another, the relationship between farmers growing pollination dependent crops, and the bees and insects that service them could be mutualistic. Flowering crops planted by farmers can provide an important source of forage to wild bees, whilst in return wild bees can contribute to ensuring farmers achieve adequate yields of marketable crops. The potential of this mutualistic relationship can be maximised by farmers by adopting management practices that reduce harm to, and enhance the wellbeing of, the wild bees around their farm. A group of common pesticides (neonicotinoids) used by farmers have recently been linked to pollinator ill health. Sub-lethal effects resulting from exposure to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid have been reported in honeybees and bumblebees, with bumblebee reproductive success found to diminish as a result of exposure to field realistic doses of this agrochemical. Here, the mechanism behind the reduced queen production in bumblebee colonies is suggested, with bees exposed to imidacloprid showing reduced efficiency in foraging for pollen. Farmers dependent upon pollinating insects for crop production can opt to avoid the use of pesticides known to harm these insects, however future studies are needed to identify safer alternatives that can be use in their place. Farmers can choose to increase the number of bees at their farms by utilising domesticated honeybees and purchasing commercially reared bumblebees. The use of these pollinators can ensure a minimum number of bees in the vicinity of a crop, and facilitate the production of crops at times when wild bee numbers are low. Concerns have been raised, however, regarding the use of commercially reared bees, mostly in regard to pathogen and parasite transmission, but also in respect to the possibility of outcompeting native species. Here the frequency and severity of attacks on commercial Bombus terrestris colonies, by the wax moth, an understudied bumblebee pest, are examined. Wax moths were found to infest almost half of the bumblebee nests deployed at fruit farms, with around a third of infestations resulting in nest destruction. Farmers investing in commercial bees will want to reduce the impact of harmful pests that may result in a reduced pollination service being delivered. Wax moth infestation rates at the study farms using commercial bees were high and the potential of a ‘spill- back’ effect on wild bees was examined. No evidence was found to suggest that nests in close proximity to these farms were any more or less likely to suffer from an attack than nests situated further away. Nest size was found to be the most significant predictor of an infestation, with larger nests more prone to wax moth attacks. Whilst farmers can utilise domesticated and commercially reared bees, relying on one source of pollination is inherently risky, and the most robust service will likely be provided by a range of pollinators. As well as reducing the use of chemicals known to harm beneficial insects, farmers can improve the habitat around their farms to help encourage and sustain wild pollinator populations. Sowing flower strips has been found to increase the abundance and diversity of pollinating insects, however, studies linking the use of these strips to crop production are lacking. Here we demonstrate for the first time that sowing small flower strips, adjacent to strawberry crops serviced by both wild and managed bees, can increase the overall number of pollinators foraging on the crop. This thesis contributes to our understanding of the implications of farm management decisions on pollinator health. It provides experimentally based evidence to guide farmers in making informed decisions regarding the future of crop pollination services and highlights the need for an integrated approach to managing pollination services for sustainability.
Supervisor: Goulson, Dave ; Park, Kirsty ; Whitehorn, Penelope R. Sponsor: NERC ; ESRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: bombus ; agriculture ; pollination ; management ; sustainable ; soft fruit ; bumblebee ; wax moth ; Bumblebees ; Pollination by bees ; Pollination by insects ; Bumblebees--Conservation ; Bumblebees--Ecology ; Wildlife habitat improvement