Agri-environment schemes, like flower fields, have been implemented in the EU to counteract the dramatic decline of farmland biodiversity. Farmers in Lower Saxony, Germany, may receive payments for three flower field types: annual, perennial (five years old), and mixed flower fields composed of yearly alternating annual and biannual parts. We assessed the effectiveness of these flower field types in providing bumblebee foraging habitat compared to control cereal fields. We sampled bumblebees with transect walks and assessed the richness of exploited pollen plants using DNA meta-barcoding and direct observations.
All flower field types enhanced bumblebee abundance and species richness compared to control fields but attracted mostly three generalist species. Although we expected highest benefits from the more heterogeneous mixed flower fields, abundance was highest in annual, only intermediate in mixed, and lowest in perennial flower fields. Bumblebee species richness did not differ between flower field types.
Overall, the proportion of sown plants in pollen loads was surprisingly low (< 50%). Bombus pascuorum, but not B. terrestris agg., exploited 10% of the sown plant species in perennial, 36% in annual and 45% in mixed flower fields, respectively. Compared to direct observations, pollen samples revealed 4.5 times more visited plant species and thus assessed floral resource use more reliably. Plant species richness in pollen loads decreased with local flowering plant species richness and increased with proportion of annual crops in the landscape, potentially due to the exploitation of more diverse and scattered resources, including flowering crops, in homogenized landscapes to fulfil dietary requirements.
Our results indicate that under the current management, both annual and mixed flower fields provide the most attractive food resources, while perennial flower fields offered the poorest foraging habitats. Conclusively, flower fields seem important but resources from the surrounding landscape are still needed to sustain bumblebees in agricultural landscapes.
Piko, J., A. Keller, C. Geppert, P. Batáry, T. Tscharntke, C. Westphal, and A. L. Hass (2021) “Effects of three flower field types on bumblebees and their pollen diets” Basic and Applied Ecology 52 pp. 95–108