Contrasting Pollinators and Pollination in Native and Non-Native Regions of Highbush Blueberry Production
Highbush blueberry yields are dependent on pollination by bees, and introduction of managed honey bees is the primary strategy used for pollination of this crop. Complementary pollination services are also provided by wild bees, yet highbush blueberry is increasingly grown in regions outside its native range where wild bee communities may be less adapted to the crop and growers may still be testing appropriate honey bee stocking densities. To contrast crop pollination in native and non-native production regions, we sampled commercial ‘Bluecrop’ blueberry fields in British Columbia and Michigan with grower-selected honey bee stocking rates (0–39.5 hives per ha) to compare bee visitors to blueberry flowers, pollination and yield deficits, and how those vary with local- and landscape-scale factors. Observed and Chao-1 estimated species richness, as well as Shannon diversity of wild bees visiting blueberries were significantly higher in Michigan where the crop is within its native range. The regional bee communities were also significantly different, with Michigan farms having greater dissimilarity than British Columbia. Blueberry fields in British Columbia had fewer visits by honey bees than those in Michigan, irrespective of stocking rate, and they also had lower berry weights and a significant pollination deficit. In British Columbia, pollination service increased with abundance of wild bumble bees, whereas in Michigan the abundance of honey bees was the primary predictor of pollination. The proportion of semi-natural habitat at local and landscape scales was positively correlated with wild bee abundance in both regions. Wild bee abundance declined significantly with distance from natural borders in Michigan, but not in British Columbia where large-bodied bumble bees dominated the wild bee community. Our results highlight the varying dependence of crop production on different types of bees and reveal that strategies for pollination improvement in the same crop can vary greatly across production regions.