Who benefits from the project?
Demonstrating the possibility of improving crop pollination by modifying pollinator experiences in the nest, via compounds in their food, has implications for agriculture and horticulture in the UK and internationally. Specifically our work will impact:
- Growers and grower bodies. Farmers producing glasshouse and polytunnel crops using managed pollinators to deliver pollination services to crops will benefit by improved efficiency of commercial bee colonies, resulting in a larger percentage of Class I fruit, fewer misshapen fruit, less wastage and reduced disposal costs of unsaleable product. It is anticipated that this will represent a significant commercial advantage to UK growers. The innovation may also help to ameliorate problems experienced when pollinator effort decreases in high temperature and humidity conditions in polytunnels, by increasing pollinator foraging focus and activity using caffeine. The industry-led nature of this project, responding to the needs of a grower organisation (Berry Gardens), and direct collaboration with growers themselves will permit us to work in a participatory way with growers to maximise communication with results and facilitate eventual take-up of positive findings.
- Global horticulture. The outcomes could provide a system of pollinator enhancement relevant to a wide variety of horticultural crops globally including citrus and almonds - both multi-billion dollar industries in the US that rely on managed pollinators. The outcomes will have wider implications since plant chemicals in nectar are found across many genera of plants, and understanding their effects on bees more widely will allow risk assessments of large monocultures on bee health and better understanding of factors that contribute to bee decline (Vanbergen et al. 2013).
- Commercial bumblebee producers. This innovation aligns with existing strategies to make commercial bumblebees more effective for growers, e.g. Biobest's Turbo hives, and may permit refinement of other emergent technologies such as bee-vectored entomopathogen biocontrols. This provides an opportunity for bumblebee producers to take bumblebee production to the next level of technology. It also enables mitigation of some environmental impacts of commercial bumblebee production by reducing interaction between wild and managed bumblebees and thus potential disease transmission and competition for wild resources.
- Beekeepers. The project will provide information about the impacts of plant compounds on bees and pollinators generally. Understanding measures that could increase bee foraging effectiveness may be of interest to bee enthusiasts more widely.
- Schools and local interest groups. Our work will help grow the public's broader understanding of the diversity of life, the importance of pollinators and agricultural ecosystems and will be of particular benefit to conflicting agendas such as agricultural production and conservation biology which often have opposing goals. Pitting food production against conservation of biological diversity are both concerned with managing natural resources based on societal mandates: agriculture focuses on the production of foods, whereas the focus of conservation is on the maintenance of biodiversity. The rational response is to consider both challenges together, as explained by Cook & Varsheny (2010).
- Policymakers. Demonstration of ways to improve performance of commercial bumblebees to enhance soft fruit product yield and quality will impact agricultural policy in UK and internationally and the scope to improve yield and quality through enhancing pollination rather than yet more chemical inputs will broaden the agro-ecological intensification debate.