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Insect pollination as an agronomic input: Strategies for oilseed rape production

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Ecological intensification involves the incorporation of biodiversity‐based ecosystem service management into farming systems in order to make crop production more sustainable and reduce reliance on anthropogenic inputs, including fertilizer and insecticides. The benefits of effectively managing ecosystem services such as pollination and pest regulation for improved yields have been demonstrated in a number of studies, however, recent evidence indicates that these benefits interact with conventional agronomic inputs such as fertilizer and irrigation. Despite the important contribution of biodiversity‐based ecosystem services to crop production their management is rarely considered in combination with more conventional agronomic inputs. This study combines a number of complementary approaches to evaluate the impact of insect pollination on yield parameters of Brassica napus and how this interacts with a key agronomic input, fertilizer. We incorporate data from a flight cage trial and multiple field studies to quantify the relationships between yield parameters to determine whether insufficient insect pollination may limit crop yield. We demonstrate that, by producing larger seeds and more pods, B. napus has the capacity to modulate investment across yield parameters and buffer sub‐optimal inputs of fertilizer or pollination. However, only when fertilizer is not limiting can the crop benefit from insect pollination, with yield increases due to insect pollination only seen under high fertilizer application. A nonlinear relationship between seed set per pod and yield per plant was found, with increases in seed set between 15 and 25 seeds per pod resulting in a consistent increase in crop yield. The capacity for the crop to compensate for lower seed set due to sub‐optimal pollination is therefore limited. Synthesis and applications. Oilseed rape has the capacity to compensate for sub‐optimal agronomic or ecosystem service inputs although this has limitations. Insect pollination can increase seed set and so there are production benefits to be gained through effective management of wild pollinators or by utilizing managed species. Our study demonstrates, however, that increased insect pollination cannot simply replace other inputs, and if resources such as fertilizer are limiting, then yield potential cannot be reached. We highlight the need to consider insect pollination as an agronomic input to be effectively managed in agricultural systems.
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Keywords: Brassica napus; agronomy; crop production; ecological intensification; fertilizer; oilseed rape; pollination; sustainable agriculture

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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