January 22nd, 2014 by
Orchard mason bee on an apple blossom

Orchard mason bee on an apple blossom. Credit: Red58bill/Wikimedia Commons

The recent crisis of “colony collapse,” in which bee colonies have been dying off due to disease, pesticides and other man-made causes, has already begun to have detrimental effects on both fruit farmers and the pollination of natural tree species.

It is possible to artificially pollinate both wild and farmed trees, or allow for wind or birds to do so; however, a recent study published in Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment  shows that apple trees pollinated specifically by insects produce much larger fruit than trees pollinated by other means. In order to conduct this experiment, farmers placed a fine mesh over certain blooming trees, which were then pollinated by hand or wind, leaving others open to insect pollination. In each of the six farms tested, the insect-pollinated trees fared better. Perhaps in the wild, where trees are not pollinated by hand, leaving only dwindling insect populations as sole pollinators, the difference could be even greater.

Artificial pollination with two apple blossoms

Artificial pollination with two apple blossoms. Credit: Abrahami/Wikimedia Commons

As this increase in crop output produces an economic incentive for the protection of pollinator species, it may soon be that more intensive protection measures are undertaken. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mike Garratt of the University of Reading, tells the Environmental News Network that he suggests aiding “pollinators [in orchards] by planting wildflower strips, maintaining hedgerows, and keeping a proper understory layer to the trees,” while “at the landscape level, what the insects really need are more native grass-lands and woodlands.”

At American Forests, projects have been undertaken to protect and restore habitats for  pollinator species such as the monarch butterfly and ruby-throated hummingbird. A strong diversity of pollinator species (insects such as bees and butterflies, bats or birds) will allow for other species to “pick up the slack” should another become threatened.

 

 

More about pollinators on Loose Leaf: