Honeybee declines in a changing landscape: interactive effects of honeybee declines and land-use intensification on pollinator communities
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Honeybees are used as a major agricultural input around the world and their pollination services have been valued at US$14.6 billion to the United States alone. Dramatic declines in honeybee populations around the globe, however, questioned the sustainability of this reliance on a single pollinator species. In this study, I investigated the response of wild pollinator communities to declining honeybee density and changing land use intensity to determine the potential of wild pollinators to compensate for honeybee loss in an increasingly human-modified environment. I generated a gradient of declining honeybee density using increasing distances from commercial bee hives, and conducted flower observations on experimentally-grown plants across this gradient. I investigate how declining honeybee densities and intensifying land use combine to influence the composition of the pollinator community as a whole, then go on to explore individual trends in the most common pollinator species. I then analyze how this impacts the transport of viable pollen by the pollinator community and determine how these changes alter seed set in several common plant species. I then change my focus away from the composition of the pollinator community, and instead investigate how declining honeybee densities and land-use intensification influence the structuring of interactions between plants and pollinators within the community. I identify the pollen species carried by pollinators, and use this to construct a network of pollination interactions. I then use this network to analyze how changes in the way species interact influences the pollination services delivered by the pollinator community to different plant groups (weeds, native plants, and crop species). My findings show that honeybee declines may have a large impact on community structure and interactions within pollination systems. I observed a significant shift in the wild pollinator community composition as honeybee densities declined, from a generally bee/hoverfly dominated community to one more dominated by large flies. This was associated with a significant decline in the total pollen load transported by the community, indicating that pollination services may suffer in the absence of honeybees. As honeybee densities declined, however, I also observed a shift toward greater specialisation of pollinators on abundant resources, increased pollinator constancy, and a higher viability rate of the pollen transported. These findings show that although the total amount of pollen transported by the community declined as honeybee densities decreased, the probability of this pollen transport resulting in effective pollination likely increased. Thus, I observed no decrease in seed set with honeybee declines in any of the three plant species tested, and one of these even showed a significant increase. Finally, I also demonstrated that this change differentially affected different plant types, and that the extent of changes to each plant species differed between land-use types. This reflected changes in the relative abundance of pollen types in different land uses, with greater specialisation in the absence of honeybees disproportionately benefiting common species. These findings have strong implications for several contemporary issues in pollination biology, both locally within New Zealand and on a global scale. These are discussed in the following sections. Finally, I conclude by discussing the implications of this research on several contemporary issues in pollination biology, namely the ability for wild pollinators to compensate for honeybee declines, the impact of honeybees on natural new Zealand ecosystems, the contribution of honeybees to invasive weed pollination and finally the management of surrounding land use types to maximize the effectiveness of wild pollinators.