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The potential for wildflower interventions to enhance natural enemies and pollinators in commercial apple orchards is limited by other management practices

McKerchar, M., Potts, S. G., Fountain, M. T., Garratt, M. P. D. and Westbury, D. B. (2020) The potential for wildflower interventions to enhance natural enemies and pollinators in commercial apple orchards is limited by other management practices. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 301. 107034. ISSN 0167-8809

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2020.107034


Modern fruit production has successfully increased yields and fruit quality to meet market demands mainly through intensification and the use of Plant Protection Products (PPPs). Due to the associated environmental impacts and consumers increasingly demanding food produced more sustainably, the tree fruit sector is seeking to reduce its reliance on PPPs. Despite intensification, apple production is still highly dependent on ecosystem services, including pest regulation and pollination. The aim of this study was to investigate the response of natural enemies and pollinators in commercial apple orchards to the provision of a wildflower habitat. It was hypothesised that the abundance and diversity of beneficial invertebrate species would be enhanced leading to an increased control of apple pests and enhanced pollination of apple blossom. We also investigated the effect of orchard pesticide toxicity on natural enemies and pest regulation services and how responses varied between apple cultivars (Jazz and Braeburn). The study was carried out in five orchards of each apple variety across Kent (UK), using a split-plot experimental design. At each site, a one-hectare orchard plot was established with wildflower strips in alleyways between rows of trees and compared with a one-hectare control plot where alleyways were managed conventionally with regular cutting. Responses of natural enemies and pollinators were recorded over a period of three and four years, respectively. The presence of wildflower strips did not contribute significantly towards the delivery of natural pest regulation or pollination services. However, hoverfly diversity and species richness were greater in orchards with wildflower strips, and whilst this was not associated with increased rates of pest regulation, such a response could potentially provide more resilient pest regulation and pollination services. Braeburn orchards had higher bee abundance, and pest predation rates, which were associated with a greater abundance of earwigs, compared to Jazz orchards. Of key significance for growers is that high values of cumulative pesticide toxicity negatively affected natural enemy populations, especially earwigs. If growers want to support natural enemies and wild pollinators in modern apple orchards following the principles of ecological intensification, they need to consider both the types and frequency of pesticide sprays used, in conjunction with interventions aimed at promoting beneficial invertebrates.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Agriculture, Policy and Development > Department of Sustainable Land Management > Centre for Agri-environmental Research (CAER)
ID Code:91071


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