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Sweat bees on hot chillies: provision of pollination services by native bees in traditional slash‐and‐burn agriculture in the Yucatán Peninsula of tropical Mexico

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Traditional tropical agriculture often entails a form of slash‐and‐burn land management that may adversely affect ecosystem services such as pollination, which are required for successful crop yields. The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico has a >4000 year history of traditional slash‐and‐burn agriculture, termed ‘milpa’. Hot ‘Habanero’ chilli is a major pollinator‐dependent crop that nowadays is often grown in monoculture within the milpa system. We studied 37 local farmers’ chilli fields (sites) to evaluate the effects of landscape composition on bee communities. At 11 of these sites, we undertook experimental pollination treatments to quantify the pollination of chilli. We further explored the relationships between landscape composition, bee communities and pollination service provision to chilli. Bee species richness, particularly species of the family Apidae, was positively related to the amount of forest cover. Species diversity decreased with increasing proportion of crop land surrounding each sampling site. Sweat bees of the genus Lasioglossum were the most abundant bee taxon in chilli fields and, in contrast to other bee species, increased in abundance with the proportion of fallow land, gardens and pastures which are an integral part of the milpa system. There was an average pollination shortfall of 21% for chilli across all sites; yet the shortfall was unrelated to the proportion of land covered by crops. Rather, chilli pollination was positively related to the abundance of Lasioglossum bees, probably an important pollinator of chilli, as well indirectly to the proportion of fallow land, gardens and pastures that promote Lasioglossum abundance. Synthesis and applications. Current, low‐intensity traditional slash‐and‐burn (milpa) agriculture provides Lasioglossum spp. pollinators for successful chilli production; fallow land, gardens and pasture therefore need to be valued as important habitats for these and related ground‐nesting bee species. However, the negative impact of agriculture on total bee species diversity highlights how agricultural intensification is likely to reduce pollination services to crops, including chilli. Indeed, natural forest cover is vital in tropical Yucatán to maintain a rich assemblage of bee species and the provision of pollination services for diverse crops and wild flowers.
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Keywords: Habanero chilli; Lasioglossum; bee abundance; bee richness; biodiversity; ecosystem service; land use; milpa; slash‐and‐burn; sweat bee

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2017

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