Using large mango farms as a case study, a group of researchers representing Britain, South Africa, and the Netherlands, recently reported the results of a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology which “show that the presence of small patches of native flowers within large farms can increase pollinator-dependent crop production if combined with preservation of remaining fragments of natural habitat and judicious use of pesticides. Native flower compensation areas represent a profitable management measure for farmers, increasing cost-effectiveness of cropland while indirectly contributing to preservation of natural habitat.”
Understandably, farmers may be reluctant to return land currently under production to native habitat due to concerns about decreased production profits. This research shows an example where the opposite was quantified. Although the total number of pollinators was not affected by distance from native habitat, fruit set was increased in areas closer to stands of native perennial plants. Flying insects are able to cross pollinate the mango flowers whereas crawling insects (ants ) are much less effective at cross pollination. Cross pollination seems to increase fruit set (and therefore marketable product) in mangos.
The evidence continues to mount in favor of biodiversity within agricultural systems. Diverse ecosystems display a resiliency that not only ameliorates long term climatic and ecological extremes, but may even improve the short term bottom line. I have to wonder about the implications of this research in view of the recent decline in honeybees (see more about Colony Collapse Syndrome). The reliance on imported honeybees could be decreased simply by restoring areas within farms to native flowering plants so that native pollinators could be supported.
Grandma was right, we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.
Authors of Creating patches of native flowers facilitates crop pollination in large agricultural fields: mango as a case study include: 1. Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK 2. Applied Biodiversity Research Division, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Private Bag X7, Claremont, South Africa 3. Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa 4. Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, The Netherlands 5. Department of Zoology, Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa 6. Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, South Africa