Co-Flowering Species Richness Increases Pollinator Visitation to Apple Flowers
Co-flowering plants can experience an array of interactions, ranging from facilitation to competition, the direction and strength of which are often dependent on the relative abundance and diversity of the plant species involved and the foraging behavior of their pollinators. Understanding interactions between plant–pollinator networks and how they change over time is particularly important within agricultural systems, such as apples, that flower en masse and that also contain non-crop co-flowering species both within the farm and the surrounding landscape. We determined the degree of overlap between pollinator networks on two varieties of apple (Granny Smith and Pink Lady) and co-flowering plant species within orchards and the wider vegetation matrix in two apple-growing regions (Orange and Bilpin) in Australia. We surveyed plant–pollinator interactions at key stages of the cropping cycle: before mass flowering; during king, peak and late blooms; and, finally, once apple flowering had finished. Overall, we found considerable overlap in the flower visitor assemblage on apples and co-flowering species within the orchard. The introduced honeybee (Apis mellifera) was the most frequent flower visitor to all three vegetation types at all times in Orange. However, in Bilpin, both a native stingless bee (Tetragonula carbonaria) and A. mellifera were highly frequent visitors, both on- and off-crop. Numerous native bees, flies and Lepidoptera also commonly visited apple and co-flowering species within orchards in both locations. We found that native-bee and honeybee visitation to apple flowers was positively correlated with co-flowering species richness (within the orchard and the wider matrix); however, visitation by native bees decreased as the area of co-flowering species in the surrounding landscape increased. Our study highlights the importance of maintaining diverse co-flowering plant communities within the local landscape to increase and support a wide variety of pollinators in horticultural production systems.
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University of Western Sydney