A research team from the Universities of Göttingen and Hohenheim, in Germany, and Venda, in South Africa, have been investigating how ecosystem services such as pollination could be improved in macadamia plantations.
They showed that a certain design of plantations — for instance, how the rows of trees are arranged, the varieties, and the integration of semi-natural habitats in and around the plantations — can increase the pollination performance of bees. The results were published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The research team first investigated the role of insect pollinators in the nut production of macadamia trees.
Insect pollination of macadamia flowers is essential for production.
A complete loss of insect pollinators would reduce the amount of nuts by 75 per cent, says Professor Ingo Grass, Head of the Department of Ecology of Tropical Agricultural Systems at the University of Hohenheim.
To find out which conditions encourage pollinators, the researchers observed and counted the bees and other insects on the macadamia flowers.
First author Mina Anders, a PhD student in Functional Agrobiodiversity at the University of Göttingen, says:
“Surprisingly, it is less important how many honey bee colonies were established in the vicinity. The more important factor is how large the proportion of semi-natural habitats is in the vicinity of the plantation, since the majority of pollinators fly from the semi-natural habitats into the plantations.”
The arrangement of the rows of trees in the plantations is therefore particularly important: 80 per cent more nuts grew at the edge of the plantation – land that borders on semi-natural habitats – than in the middle of the plantation.
Directly after flowering, the nut formation increased more than threefold in tree rows planted at right angles to semi-natural habitats, compared to rows planted parallel to the habitats.
“Pollinators move more easily from their habitat to the plantations when the rows are perpendicular, as they prefer to fly along the rows rather than through them,” Anders explains.
Agronomic practices such as artificial irrigation, on the other hand, did not increase the initial nut formation.
Professor Catrin Westphal, Head of Functional Agrobiodiversity, says:
“Given the urgency to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of agricultural practices, we emphasise the enormous potential of supporting ecology through intelligent plantation design and the restoration and maintenance of semi-natural habitats in plantations and the surrounding landscape.”
- Mina Anders, Ingo Grass, Valerie M. G. Linden, Peter J. Taylor, Catrin Westphal. Smart orchard design improves crop pollination. Journal of Applied Ecology, 2023; DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.14363