Wildflowers DO bring in the bees – Scheper et al. 2013

posted by Katharina

FoPC_tailwaterpond_lupin_poppy_1_croppedRecently, Kris from Tomten Farm in Colorado asked how to increase pollinator abundance and diversity on her farm. A paper by Jeroen Scheper et al. (2013) shows that one of the best ways to attract a lot of pollinators to your farm is to plant wildflowers and, if you want to get lots of different kinds of pollinators, plant diverse wildflower mixes. The researchers analyzed data from six European countries. In an effort to mitigate the negative effects of agricultural intensification the European Union established incentives for farmers to incorporate conservation measures into farm management plans. These conservation measures are known as agri-environmental schemes (AES). Some of these schemes are similar to cost-share programs in the United States offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The paper by Scheper et al. (2013) compared AES and conventionally managed fields using data collected from 121 paired fields. Specifically, they were interested in knowing whether wildflower plantings, conversion to organic production practices, or grassland establishment did the most for pollinators. They found that, in croplands, all of these practices benefited pollinators, but that wildflower plantings attracted the most pollinators (see Fig 2a in the paper). When they looked at wildflower plantings more carefully, they saw that the more different kinds of wildflowers you plant, the more bees you get! This is true both for bee abundance and bee diversity (see Fig 3a and b in the paper.) In a separate post we’ll talk about some of the other findings in this paper.

Questions researchers want to know now are: What is the best recipe for wildflower mixes that want to increase pollinator diversity? How does this recipe differ if the goal is to increase crop pollinating species? Do pollinators visiting farm wildflower strips pollinate crop plants as well? And, do farm wildflowers have the desired effect of increasing pollinator populations or simply attract and concentrate existing pollinators from the surrounding landscape?

If you’re in North America and want some suggestions for wildflowers in your region check out the Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership.