Expansion of mass-flowering crops leads to transient pollinator dilution and reduced wild plant pollination

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Nov 22;278(1723):3444-51. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0268. Epub 2011 Apr 6.


Agricultural land use results in direct biodiversity decline through loss of natural habitat, but may also cause indirect cross-habitat effects on conservation areas. We conducted three landscape-scale field studies on 67 sites to test the hypothesis that mass flowering of oilseed rape (Brassica napus) results in a transient dilution of bees in crop fields, and in increased competition between crop plants and grassland plants for pollinators. Abundances of bumble-bees, which are the main pollinators of the grassland plant Primula veris, but also pollinate oilseed rape (OSR), decreased with increasing amount of OSR. This landscape-scale dilution affected bumble-bee abundances strongly in OSR fields and marginally in grasslands, where bumble-bee abundances were generally low at the time of Primula flowering. Seed set of Primula veris, which flowers during OSR bloom, was reduced by 20 per cent when the amount of OSR within 1 km radius increased from 0 to 15 per cent. Hence, the current expansion of bee-attractive biofuel crops results in transient dilution of crop pollinators, which means an increased competition for pollinators between crops and wild plants. In conclusion, mass-flowering crops potentially threaten fitness of concurrently flowering wild plants in conservation areas, despite the fact that, in the long run, mass-flowering crops can enhance abundances of generalist pollinators and their pollination service.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Brassica napus / growth & development*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Ecosystem*
  • Flowers / physiology*
  • Germany
  • Pollination / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Primula / physiology
  • Seeds / physiology
  • Species Specificity