Cover Crops Complement, Not Compete with Almond Bloom

The engineering of flowering agricultural field borders has emerged as a research and policy priority to mitigate threats to pollinators. Studies have, however, rarely addressed the potential that flowering field borders might compete with neighboring crops for pollinator visits if they both are in bloom at the same time, despite this being a concern expressed by growers. We evaluated how wildflower plantings added to orchard borders in a large (512 ha) commercial almond orchard affected honey bee and wild bee visitation to orchard borders and the crop. The study was conducted over two consecutive seasons using three large (0.48 ha) wildflower plantings paired with control orchard borders in a highly simplified agricultural landscape in California. Honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) and wild bee visitation to wildflower plots were at least an order of magnitude higher than to control plots, but increased honey bee visitation to wildflower plots did not lead to any detectable shifts in honey bee visitation to almond flowers in the neighboring orchard. Wild bees were rarely observed visiting almond flowers irrespective of border treatment, indicating a limited short-term potential for augmenting crop pollination using wild bees in highly simplified agricultural landscapes. Although further studies are warranted on bee visitation and crop yield from spatially independent orchards, this study indicates that growers can support bees with alternative forage in almond orchards without risking competition between the wildflower plantings and the crop.  Read the full report from Oxford’s Environmental Entomology Journal Here.

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