New research reveals which insects are the most effective pollinators for strawberry crops. Edith Villa-Galaviz and scientists from Finland, Sweden and the UK published a study in Ecological Solutions and Evidence that tracked down the top bug transporters of strawberry pollen. The key findings show that abundant, specialised insects with long active periods move the most pollen between strawberry blossoms. Bees and flies emerged as MVPs – most valuable pollinators.
The study could be a big help to farmers. Insect pollination by bees, flies, and other bugs is essential for growing bountiful harvests of tasty strawberries and other fruits. However, collecting data on direct pollen transfer takes a lot of work. So, the researchers observed three UK strawberry farms over an entire growing season.
They captured every insect visiting the flowers and analysed their pollen. This data revealed which species delivered the best pollination service. The team also counted flower visits to test whether this simpler method could effectively spotlight the top pollinators. The research also found that monitoring flower visits provides results similar to measuring pollen loads directly. This shortcut makes it much easier for farmers to identify their key local pollinators.
The results showed bees like honeybees and bumblebees, plus flies like Eristalis, transported the most pollen, identifying them as vital strawberry pollinators. Flower visit data flagged the same top groups, though it underestimated bees somewhat. Overall, common insects that specialised on strawberries and worked long days performed the best. Most insects also carried non-crop pollen, indicating a need for diverse flowers. This need for diversity is a factor Villa-Galaviz and colleagues highlight in their conclusion:
[O]ur findings highlight the importance of considering the crop in a landscape context when making management decisions. Diverse habitat requirements of pollinator taxa and life stages and the frequent use of wild plants by strawberry pollinators underline the difficulties for insects in living in crop fields alone. Villa-Galaviz et al. 2023.
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Villa-Galaviz, E., Cirtwill, A.R., Gibson, R., Timberlake, T., Roslin, T. and Memmott, J. (2023) “What makes a good pollinator? Abundant and specialised insects with long flight periods transport the most strawberry pollen,” Ecological Solutions and Evidence, 4(3). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1002/2688-8319.12253.
Cover: A bumblebee pollinates a strawberry. Image: Canva.